I like to picture a make-believe moment after Teemu Selanne was scratched for Game 4 of the Anaheim Ducks’ first-round series against the Dallas Stars. It goes along the lines of the movie Rudy. Players young and old walk into Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau’s office with their jerseys, slapping them on his desk and telling him they want the veteran to take their place in the lineup.
“For Teemu, coach.”
It’s not something that actually happened, but the scratch was significant at the time and could have destroyed the Ducks' locker-room chemistry. So, too, could the goaltending decisions made by Boudreau along the way, flipping between Jonas Hiller and Frederik Andersen, and then going to untested rookie John Gibson against the Los Angeles Kings for Game 4 with his team in danger of falling to within a single game of elimination.
Somehow, though, it’s all worked out for the Ducks. With Selanne in his final year and set to retire at the end of the playoffs, you have to wonder—if you believe in this sort of thing—if the Ducks are the NHL’s team of destiny.
The gut feeling on Gibson panned out with a shutout in Game 4 to tie the series. The 20-year-old might have been even better in a 39-save performance for a 4-3 victory in Game 5 on Monday night to give the Ducks the upper hand and a chance to knock out the Kings on Wednesday in Game 6.
The drama is behind the Ducks now. It seems only good things are ahead.
It starts in net with Gibson providing a rock-solid base, but things are shaping up all through the lineup. Selanne, for one, has been much more like his former self since that scratch. The 43-year-old has two goals and five points in his seven games since, including an incredible feed for Mathieu Perreault, whose shot tipped past goalie Jonathan Quick off Devante Smith-Pelly on Monday night to start a run of three goals in a span of 7:12 in the second period to pile up a 4-1 lead.
The Kings pushed back with a pair of goals from Marian Gaborik to make things close, but the Ducks hung on thanks in large part to Gibson.
“He’s the best goalie I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe we got one by him tonight,” Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said, fully facetiously, in his postgame scrum as seen on the NHL Network.
The statement was oozing with sarcasm, but for his age and stage of development, what Gibson has done through three regular-season games and a pair of playoff performances is nothing short of amazing.
The veterans like Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry may be setting the tone, but the young players are following suit.
Gibson and defenseman Hampus Lindholm are both 20, Smith-Pelly is 21. Blueliners Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen are 22 and Silfverberg and Kyle Palmieri are 23.
Their contributions have presented a kind of offensive depth even the Kings haven’t been able to match.
“It’s been big. I think you can see every game, or most games we win, when we’re able to chip in and get some goals and put four up, it’s hard to beat us with the goaltending we’re getting,” Bonino told the NHL Network.
Selanne is playing out his final season, but the Ducks have a bright future.
With Gibson playing with so much more confidence than a guy his age can typically muster, that future may actually start now.
It's amazing the swagger Gibson is giving the Ducks. A goalie can mean so more to a team than just a puck stopper.— Hockey Buzz Eklund (@Eklund) May 13, 2014
“He’s been great,” Bonino said of Gibson. “I think he’s 20. I think he’s got a birth certificate and everything to prove it. He’s been awesome for us. He makes all the saves he needs to. Gibby’s so calm, so collected in the net. It leaks out to the team. We’re all calm. We’re collected.”
As a result, the Ducks are heading to Los Angeles just a win away from advancing to the Western Conference final.
Via Dennis Bernstein of THP Magazine, Selanne says Anaheim will enjoy that challenge:
Teemu on Game 6 clincher for #Ducks in LA "that's the plan, it's the toughest game but it can be the most fun"— Dennis Bernstein (@DennisTFP) May 13, 2014
Steve Macfarlane has been covering the NHL for more than a decade, including seven seasons for the Calgary Sun. You can follow him on Twitter @MacfarlaneHKY.