John Gibson Stonewalls Suddenly Vulnerable Kings in Ducks' Game 4 Win

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John Gibson Stonewalls Suddenly Vulnerable Kings in Ducks' Game 4 Win
Kirby Lee/USA Today

Just like we all predicted once the starting lineups were announced before Game 4 of the conference semifinal series between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, one goaltender was yanked after a poor performance in a high-pressure game and another tossed a shutout and made it look effortless in the process.

It's doubtful anyone thought it would be Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick watching from the bench after the first period and rookie John Gibson delivering a shutout, yet here we are.

Gibson made 28 saves in his postseason debut as the Ducks emerged with a 2-0 victory in Game 4 of their best-of-seven series with Kings, evening things at 2-2 with a pair of victories in Staples Center after losing the first two games of the series on home ice.

The Ducks won Game 3 despite starting goaltender Frederik Andersen suffering a lower-body injury in the third period and seasoned veteran Jonas Hiller coming on in relief. Coach Bruce Boudreau threw caution to the wind and went with the 20-year-old Gibson with the Ducks in a 2-1 series hole and was rewarded with a flawless performance.

On the flip side was Quick, the starting goaltender for Team USA at the Sochi Olympics and the man who backstopped the Kings to a Stanley Cup in 2012 and the conference semifinals in 2013, was the sacrificial lamb. He allowed a pair of first-period goals to Devante Smith-Pelly and Ryan Getzlaf to put the Kings in a 2-0 hole.

Then something unthinkable, or at least unexpected, happened.

After the first period, coach Darryl Sutter pulled Quick in favor of Martin Jones, this despite Quick not exactly at fault on either goal.

Was Quick hurt? Did something look off about him as he allowed two goals on 11 shots? Was Sutter choosing to send a message to his club in one of the more unorthodox ways imaginable?

Sutter claimed it was more about waking up his team.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

"It wasn't difficult pulling him," said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter to USA Today's Kristen Shilton. "The thought process was that we had given up two goals. We should have done it sooner."

"I think Darryl was trying to get some energy," Kings forward Anze Kopitar told Shilton. "That was one of the moves."

It certainly helped from a defensive standpoint, as the Ducks were held without a shot in the second period and had just three in the third period. It did nothing offensively, however, as Gibson turned aside the final 19 shots he faced over the final 40 minutes.

The Kings left Anaheim holding the hammer in this series, yet will return there for Game 5 on Monday with a slew of questions.

Have the Kings hit a wall? In the first round, they overcame a 3-0 series deficit against the San Jose Sharks and carried that momentum into the second round. But after rallying to win Game 1 against the Ducks in overtime and using a fantastic showing from Quick to win Game 2, the Ducks have been rewarded for their great play in Games 3 and 4.

Has their confidence been rattled by a goaltender who wasn't even on the postseason roster before Game 4? Is something wrong with Quick?

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Meanwhile, Gibson could be making his long-awaited ascension to the NHL at just the right time.

A second-round pick in 2011, Gibson had toiled behind Hiller and a host of goaltenders for several years. He was invited to the Team USA orientation camp last summer and had a chance to be the third goaltender in Sochi but lost out to Jimmy Howard.

A rookie goaltender having success in the postseason isn't unprecedented. Cam Ward took over for Martin Gerber early in the 2006 playoffs and guided the Carolina Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup. He wasn't a rookie, but Martin Brodeur shared time during the playoffs in his rookie season with Chris Terreri before the New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup in 1995 with a 23-year-old Brodeur. 

The Kings have experience and talent. The Ducks have a rookie and two straight wins as they head home for a pivotal Game 5.

If Quick is just a little bit off, this could become the series in which Gibson announces his presence to the NHL.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

All statistics via NHL.com and Extra Skater.

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