Los Angeles Kings vs. Anaheim Ducks Game 7: Keys for Each Team
The Kings forced a deciding game by edging the Ducks 2-1 in Game 6 at the Staples Center on Wednesday. Jake Muzzin and Trevor Lewis scored for the Kings, while Jonathan Quick returned to his early-series form and made 21 saves to earn the victory.
Anaheim rookie goalie John Gibson gave up his first "soft" goal of the series, and it was costly in the one-goal loss. Still, he played well besides the Lewis goal and will likely be between the pipes again for Game 7. Kyle Palmieri scored the only goal for the Ducks in Game 6.
This evenly matched series comes down to a seventh and deciding game. The loser goes home, while the winner advances to the Western Conference Final to meet the Chicago Blackhawks.
Here are the three biggest keys for each team to win Game 7. Feel free to comment on any of these or add one of your own. As always, indicate why you feel the way you do.
Kings Key No. 1: Score the First Goal
Scoring the first goal is critical for the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7, and it will help them in many ways.
As the road team, the Kings will quiet the home crowd in Anaheim by scoring first. That will help neutralize the home-ice advantage for the Ducks.
Furthermore, the Kings are a defense-first team and are much better at protecting a lead than they are at pressing and trying to come from behind to win.
If the Kings get an early lead, they can play their shutdown style, let their size and defensive play dictate the tempo and gain the upper hand.
It would be advantageous for the Ducks to score first, but as the NHL's best offensive team during the regular season, it is less vital for them than it is for the Kings.
Ducks Key No. 1: Convert on the Power Play
The Ducks' power play has been a key component of their success.
In the three games Anaheim won, the power play went 4-of-8. The Ducks scored a total of four goals more than the Kings in those three games.
Meanwhile, the Ducks failed to score at all on the power play in Games 1 and 6 and lost them both.
When the Ducks have the extra attacker, they can put more pressure on Jonathan Quick. They have more room to maneuver; they can get bodies in the blue paint and make skilled cross-ice passes that result in players being uncovered in front of an open side of the goal.
In a tight, low-scoring series, scoring on the power play is a big key for the Ducks.
Kings Key No. 2: Keep the Score Low
The Kings cannot get into a run-and-gun, end-to-end offensive contest with the Ducks.
Anaheim led the league in goals scored during the regular season. The Kings were 26th in that category.
Yes, Los Angeles has some talented offensive players in the lineup, but that's not its style of play.
Darryl Sutter's club wants to be physical, use its size to slow down the Anaheim attack and keep the game low-scoring.
The Kings have not scored more than three goals in any game in this series. They are unlikely to win a 6-5 game, but they feel right at home in a 3-2 or 2-1 contest.
By hitting, clogging up the passing lanes and dictating the tempo of the game, the Kings can create an advantage for themselves in Game 7.
Ducks Key No. 2: Get Good Goaltending from John Gibson
John Gibson was flawless in Game 4, making 28 saves to earn a 2-0 shutout victory.
In Game 5, the rookie made 39 saves and helped his club win 4-3.
He didn't play poorly in Game 6. He allowed only two goals in 23 shots and played well enough to give his team a chance to win, but the Ducks lost 2-1.
But one of those goals was a soft one that dribbled between his pads and trickled into the net. That turned out to be the game-winner.
How does he respond to allowing a soft goal that cost his team a game? Sure, the rookie has played very well thus far, but this is the first time he is facing adversity.
It is also his first Game 7 experience at the NHL level.
The Ducks need a solid performance from their goalie to win the deciding contest of this series. Don't be surprised if Bruce Boudreau has Gibson on a short leash if he is shaky early in Game 7.
Kings Key No. 3: Get Offense from Unexpected Sources
The Kings have gotten a lot of offense from Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar. They need to get more scoring from the rest of their lineup.
They got it in Game 6 when Jake Muzzin and Trevor Lewis scored. The Kings won 2-1.
Players like Slava Voynov, Mike Richards, Jarret Stoll, Dwight King, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson could do a lot to help the Kings if they can collectively contribute a goal or two.
The Kings need to get contributions from their first line, but they can't only rely on the usual suspects to create offense if they hope to have a realistic chance of winning Game 7.
Ducks Key No. 3: Get Bodies in Front of Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Quick is one of the best goalies in the NHL. He has already won a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy, represented his country in the Olympics and been named to a postseason All-Star Team.
He has been in goal in five elimination games this year alone and has won all five. He has allowed only six goals in those games and has a .962 save percentage.
If Quick sees a shot, he is almost certainly going to stop it.
In the three games they won, the Ducks did a good job of getting bodies in front of him, setting screens and battling for rebounds to create quality scoring chances.
If they hope to score enough goals to advance to the Western Conference Final, they will need to do more of that in Game 7.