Anaheim Ducks Defeat Los Angeles Kings 6-5 in Shootout, Thriller

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Nov 9, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen (45) celebrates with the bench after he scores a goal against the Vancouver Canucks during the second period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Anaheim Ducks looked to make a statement against the Los Angeles Kings, the very team that eliminated them in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals last season in a 6-2 thrashing at Honda Center. The Ducks stewed over the season on how to combat the Kings’ extremely well-built roster, with franchise centerman Anze Kopitar, blue-line anchor Drew Doughty, all-world netminder Jonathan Quick, and many other great players that helped propel the Kings to their second Stanley Cup championship in three seasons.

This was a start. The Anaheim Ducks made a furious comeback, coming back from three separate two-goal deficits to send the game to overtime before winning 6-5 in a shootout to cap off a back-and-forth thriller. It was a complete turnaround from last postseason, when the Ducks looked tentative to start Game 7 and let adversity snowball into an insurmountable 5-0 deficit.

Just as they did on May 16th, the Ducks fell into an early first period deficit. Kopitar began the scoring after being awarded a penalty shot 9:21 into the game. Marian Gaborik made a pass to spring Kopitar between Bryan Allen and Sami Vatanen for an uncontested lane at Frederik Andersen. Vatanen hooked Kopitar to prevent him from getting the shot attempt off, giving the Slovenian a chance to put Los Angeles up. Kopitar made a simple move and slid a backhander under Andersen, getting his fourth goal of the season.

Just before the end of the first period, the Kings further extended their lead. Nate Thompson coughed up the puck to Jeff Carter after a hit from Kopitar. Carter fired a pass to Jake Muzzin, whose shot missed high, but the puck came to Doughty, who hammered a shot past Andersen with Gaborik parked in front. The goal was Doughty’s first of the season, putting both of the Kings’ big franchise players on the scoresheet. The Kings had a 2-0 lead, despite being outshot 14-5 at the point of Doughty’s goal and 15-5 in the first period overall.

The Ducks would get on the board at the 7:07 mark of the second period. William Karlsson and Andrew Cogliano led a two-on-one break, and though the puck was saved and cleared to the wall, Rickard Rakell won a battle and got to the puck. Cogliano then fired a cross-ice pass to Cam Fowler, who fired the puck past Quick to cut the deficit to 2-1. Brayden McNabb inadvertently screen Quick on the goal, which was Fowler’s second. Fowler also scored his tenth point of the season with the score after he missed Sunday’s game against Vancouver with a lower-body injury suffered Friday.

The Kings would extend their lead to 3-1 thanks to Trevor Lewis just a couple minutes later. Lewis batted down a pass from Kyle Clifford and fired the puck, which fluttered on its way to the goal. Andersen was fooled by the shot and failed to catch it, and after allowing three goals on ten shots, the Danish netminder was yanked. Bruce Boudreau put Jason LaBarbera in the game at that point.

Anaheim responded again a couple minutes later. On one end, LaBarbera stopped Justin Williams, who tried to outwait LaBarbera with a nifty little move, but Matt Beleskey ended up with the puck and rushed into the offensive zone. Eventually, Hampus Lindholm found Ryan Kesler skating towards the net, but both Muzzin and Doughty converged on the center. Kesler then passed to Jakob Silfverberg, who fired his rocket wrister past Quick to make the score 3-2. It was Silfverberg’s first goal of the season, and he had been creating numerous strong offensive chances in previous games.

In the third period, the Ducks tied the game just 2:35 in. Vatanen got a puck that was coming around the boards and shot it on net. The rebound fell to Beleskey, who got the puck to Silfverberg. The Swede settled the puck with a backhand for Kesler, who slapped a puck high to tie the game. It was Kesler’s fourth goal of the season, giving him two points on the night. Beleskey recorded his first assist of the season, while Silfverberg got his seventh. Both players now have eight points on the season.

However, the Kings would retake the lead at the 7:32 mark. Doughty made a pass to Gaborik, who streaked down the left wing side past Vatanen and zipped a shot just inside the post to give the Kings a 4-3 lead. Gaborik scored his second goal of the season and now has goals in consecutive games, while Muzzin (two assists) and Doughty (one goal, one assist) both recorded multiple-point nights.

Los Angeles would then extend its lead. Williams shot the puck in on LaBarbera, who decided to play it off the wall. However, the puck fell right to Kopitar, who fed the puck to Alec Martinez. LaBarbera made the initial save, but the rebound fell to Williams, who put a shot past LaBarbera to make it 5-3, Los Angeles. The goal was the second for Williams, who won the 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy with a spectacular Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he only has four points in 15 games this season.

The Ducks, again, cut into the deficit. Lindholm fed Kesler the puck as he was entering the offensive zone, and Kesler just bulldozed through the offensive zone, including knocking down newly-signed defenseman Jamie McBain on his way to scoring a terrific wrap-around goal. This was Kesler’s first multi-goal game as a member of the Ducks, and it gave the center his fifth of the season. Vatanen recorded a primary assist on the goal, giving him his first point of the season that was not on the power-play.

In a thrilling finish, Anaheim would tie it with 99 seconds left in regulation. Vatanen tried to fire a cross-ice pass to an open Devante Smith-Pelly, but Smith-Pelly fired a turn-around shot instead of trying to control the puck. The captain, Ryan Getzlaf, got a tip at the front of the net, redirecting the puck past Quick to knot the score up at five goals apiece. Getzlaf scored his fifth goal of the season, giving him the team lead in points with 16. His five goals are tied for third on the team with Kesler,. Vatanen earned a secondary assist to give him 12 points on the year, which is fourth on the team and the most among any Ducks defenseman.

The five minute overtime period was not enough to decide the game, so this thriller went to the shootout. Gaborik was up first for the Kings, and he rushed in off his off-wing before firing one past LaBarbera. However, Silfverberg would fire his terrific shot past Quick with pinpoint aim. Next up was Carter, who was stopped by LaBarbera after coming right down the middle. Kesler went for the Ducks and rushed on his off-wing, scoring to give the Ducks a 2-1 lead. Last up was Kopitar, who scored in the first period on a penalty shot. However, LaBarbera came up with the save, and the Ducks ended up winning a thriller 6-5 in the shootout over the Kings.

The Ducks were just terrific tonight. They had all the excuses to throw this game away: another early deficit, no Corey Perry or Francois Beauchemin (who were diagnosed with having the mumps virus), and their third-string goalie in net when it was 3-1. Instead, the Ducks did something they hadn’t done in a while: play a full 60 minute regulation. In a game where the Ducks’ goaltending was sub-par, the Ducks’ skaters more than made up for it by competing in the corners and skating hard. This was the effort that was lacking in the beginning of the game last Wednesday against the Islanders, the middle of Friday’s game against the Coyotes, or the middle and end of the game against the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday. The Ducks controlled play, doing all the things necessary to do so. They won the faceoff battle 35-30, outhit Los Angeles 44-36, and outshot the Kings 49-26, including putting up 14 shots in each period of regulation. Unlike last May, when the Ducks caved when faced with adversity, the Ducks responded and punctuated the night with a victory.

This was arguably the best game of the young NHL season. Whether it was the fact that the game was aired on NBCSN or just two good teams squaring off in an intense matchup, the game had a playoff atmosphere to it. The Ducks showcased exactly what they can do when they are competing and giving effort: with or without key cogs such as Perry and Beauchemin, the Ducks are capable of dressing 18 skaters and two goalies who are able to go out and play with anybody. The win should make fans happy, as the Ducks are now back at the top of the NHL standings with 25 points, but it should also give fans confidence about the team. The Ducks showed that when they are playing focused, they can face adversity and overcome it, even against a great team like the Los Angeles Kings. Again, the regular season is more about quality of play than just the win-loss record. The Ducks were spectacular, and they got a well-earned two points from it.

Both teams shortened their benches significantly. Allen was the only Ducks’ defenseman to play under 20 minutes of ice time (14:59). Both Thompson and Tim Jackman played under ten minutes, while Rakell and Karlsson both played fewer than 13. Darryl Sutter played Clifford for only 4:55. Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, two integral members of that great second line of the Kings, got 8:00 and 10:43 of ice, respectively.

As always, here are my three stars of the night.