This is getting to be a theme for the Los Angeles Kings.
On Wednesday night, the Kings once again found themselves playing in an elimination game, facing the prospect of their season ending in the event of a loss. Instead of that, L.A. won by a 2-1 score, and improved its record in elimination contests to 5-0 in these playoffs.
Those five elimination wins are five more than the team recorded en route to the Stanley Cup in 2012; that year Los Angeles won four series without ever facing the prospect of elimination. In fact, in the decade prior to this playoff run, the Kings had played in only four elimination games, posting a 1-3 record.
The game itself wasn’t one for the history books, despite a last desperate flurry by the Ducks that provided action as exciting as that in any other series. For the most part, this game was a buttoned-down affair in which neither team got a pile of shots and the pivotal goal was a long-range shot that somehow squeaked through John Gibson:
As the NBCSN call put it, “He should have had that one.”
Still, it’s been an awfully good playoffs so far for the young goaltender, and Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau’s response after the game to questions about the ugly winning goal revealed his confidence in Gibson:
Asked Boudreau if he talked to Gibson after 2nd goal, "No". Will he? "No"— Dennis Bernstein (@DennisTFP) May 15, 2014
Gibson isn’t really the concern for Anaheim. The concern for Anaheim is that it had a chance to end this series in six but now will face a Kings team that played its best hockey in the series on Wednesday:
That was by far LA's best game of the series.— Robert P. (@RobertJFTC) May 15, 2014
Despite leading for about 80% of the game the Kings still dominated possession, they out-attempted the Ducks 50-35 at evens.— Robert P. (@RobertJFTC) May 15, 2014
This game was vintage Kings hockey. Darryl Sutter’s team excels in playing a low-event game in which it dominates possession; that’s exactly what Wednesday’s contest was and what so many games in these playoffs haven’t been for the Kings.
In his postgame press conference Sutter chose not to emphasize what from his perspective must have been a welcome development. Instead, looking ahead to Game 7, he opted to paint the Ducks as heavy favorites to win on home ice:
Darryl Sutter calls his team a "big underdog" heading into Game 7; notes Kings finished well behind Ducks in standings— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) May 15, 2014
Despite Sutter’s public comments, he has to be happy with his team’s chances.
Jonathan Quick had a strong night to end a three-game slump. When he’s been bad he’s been really bad in these playoffs, and the Kings have generally lost, but when he’s been decent-or-better Los Angeles has won. Too, the Kings contained Anaheim’s star players—interestingly, Sutter’s second pair and third forward line carried most of the mail there—and the combination of strong goaltending and strong defensive play is exactly how the Kings are built to play.
In contrast, the Ducks have to be worried at how easily they were handled in Game 6. Gibson looked human, but a much bigger problem was the way L.A. contained Anaheim’s offensive stars, including holding Ryan Getzlaf to zero shots. Boudreau said in his postgame that the Ducks will be better in Game 7. They’ll have to be.