There was a moment, early in the second period of Monday night’s game between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, when it looked as if they’d gone back in time to some earlier Teemu Selanne era. The Ducks were on the power play, the game was tied 1-1 and there hadn’t been a lot to choose from between either team until that point.
Selanne – now 43, but once known as the Finnish Flash because of that wonderful skating ability – was hightailing it into the zone. His teammate, Francois Beauchemin, saw how Selanne had gained more than just a step on the Kings’ defence and smartly fired the puck into the zone where could Selanne pounce on it, with no one in the vicinity.
Selanne had time to circle the net; spot centre Mathieu Perreault and before you knew it, the go-ahead goal was in the net, Perrault’s shot deflecting in off the skate of Devante Smith-Pelly. The Ducks would score again 83 seconds later and once more about six minutes later, breaking open a game that eventually finished 4-3 in their favor.
It was, according to coach Bruce Boudreau, a set play, one that Selanne drew up himself.
“He took off on the breakout,” said Beauchemin, “and I just saw that if I dump it in, he would get it back – because with his speed, he would get to the puck first. That’s what ended up happening, he was able to get to the net and find Perreault on the back door, so it turned out pretty good.”
Anaheim’s win gave it a 3-2 lead in the Pacific Division final and a chance to wrap up the series with a victory Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
It has been a streaky post-season for these hard-to-figure Kings. The 2012 Stanley Cup champions lost their first three playoff games, won the next six and now have lost three in a row again. If they hope to get back to the conference final for the third consecutive year, they’ll need to put another winning streak together in a hurry.
The strength of the Ducks is in their depth and they had a nice balance to their scoring last night, getting even-strength goals from three different lines, plus one on the power-play. Nick Bonino, two from Smith-Pelly and Jakob Silfverberg accounted for the Anaheim scoring.
“Obviously, I had a couple of Grade-A chances,” said Smith-Pelly. “I’m trying to help the team. If they go in, that’s great. As long as I’m creating energy and stuff like that, it’s all right.”
Ducks’ rookie goaltender John Gibson saw his playoff shutout streak end at 69 minutes and 12 seconds when he gave up a first-period goal to the Kings’ Trevor Lewis – a puck that deflected in off defenceman Bryan Allen – but he was solid again in his just his fifth career NHL start.
Anaheim has used three goalies thus far in the playoffs, but Gibson is the man of the moment for coach Bruce Boudreau, who seems to have an unflinching confidence in him. It is not the first time Boudreau has turned to an untried 20-year-old in goal. He did it back in his Washington Capitals’ days with Semyon Varlamov – and that worked for a time as well.
Gibson gave up three goals in total, all on deflections and when Kings’ coach Darryl Sutter was asked about his play, his voice was dripping with sarcasm: “He’s the greatest goalie I’ve ever seen. I’m surprised we got one past him.”
Then Sutter added: “Pressure’s on him now.”
Gibson hasn’t given in to the pressure yet.
“He’s pretty good,” understated Boudreau. “All three goals tonight were tipped in by at least one of our guys. I hope he can do it for a couple more games – or at least one.”
L.A. can be erratic on offence, even in the good times, but they are also missing the steadiness of two veterans, Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr, on defence. Early in the game, Jake Muzzin lost an edge turning in the corner, a mishap that led directly to the first Anaheim goal; and Alec Martinez made a direct pass onto Ryan Getzlaf’s stick to set the stage for Smith-Pelly’s second goal.
The Kings are usually more defensively sound than that.
Boudreau sat out Selanne for a game in the previous series against the Dallas Stars and is only playing him, on average, a little less than 12 and a half minutes per night, not nearly the volume of ice time that Selanne wants. But Selanne is careful to say nothing inflammatory, knowing this is his last crack at another Stanley Cup championship, which is why he came back to play this season in the first place.
If Anaheim had lost, this might have been Selanne’s last-ever game at the Honda Center.
Does that provide extra motivation?
“I don’t know,” answered Boudreau, “but I’m sure that’s something people think of. Him and Saku (Koivu) are a couple of veterans on the team. This might be their last kick at the can. I’m not trying to say Saku’s retiring, but he’s 39 years old, so you don’t know when you get the opportunity to move forward again like this. I’m sure it’s a little bit of a motivation – when they look across the room and see those guys sitting there.”
So the two co-exist, and once in a while, an old-style Selanne burst can tilt a close game Anaheim’s way for a while.
The Kings made a big third-period push, after getting the deficit down to two goals on a power-play goal by Marian Gaborik before the second period ended. Smith-Pelly was serving a double minor for high-sticking Drew Doughty when Gaborik scored his seventh goal of the post-season. Gaborik then added a second goal, a harmless backhander from Dustin Brown deflecting in off him with 5:48 to go in regulation, narrowing the deficit to 4-3 on the Kings’ 39th shot of the night.