Sometimes, the Los Angeles Kings' Twitter feed likes to have a little fun at an opponent's expense – and so it was again Wednesday night, heading into a possible elimination game against their cross-town rivals, the Anaheim Ducks.
The Kings tweeted out a picture of the boy king, being carried into Staples Center on a litter, a playful dig against Ducks' rookie goaltender John Gibson, who had been lights out good so far in his brief NHL career. Kings' coach Darryl Sutter just hates to go along with the hype though, and so let the sarcasm flow the other night when he called Gibson the greatest goaltender ever.
Gibson has been receiving mostly positive reviews for coming out of the press box earlier in the series and leading the Ducks to consecutive wins.
The boy king? A little over the top. Future starter? Most definitely.
But the boy king will need to wait at least one more day to wear the crown, after the Kings squeezed two past him in a 2-1 victory over the Ducks at the Staples Center. L.A.'s victory evened the series at three wins apiece and forced a one-game winner-take-all showdown Friday for a chance to play the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference final.
Kings defenceman Drew Doughty – who pointedly noted that he'd rather have his own Jonathan Quick tending goal over Gibson – also figured if the Kings just reverted to their defence-first style, they'd be fine; and they were.
Doughty is now 8-0 in elimination games this season, three for Canada's Olympic team in Sochi; five more now in the playoffs, including four in a row during the Kings' first-round series against the San Jose Sharks.
"It's Game 7 now," said Doughty. "If we'd been asked before the start of the playoffs, if we could go to a Game 7 in the second round against Anaheim, we would take it. Our team is built to play in these kinds of games. Our leaders step up to the plate and they show the way and everybody else just follows.
"We're looking forward to this game. We're not nervous. We're not overexcited or overanxious. We're just ready to get going."
Gibson had a decent-enough outing on balance, but he made a critical mistake a key moment in the game – whiffing on a harmless wrist shot from Trevor Lewis with 5:54 to go in the second period. The shot squeezed between his legs and trickled into the net to give the Kings a two-goal lead. A wrap-around goal by the Ducks' Kyle Palmieri 98 seconds later got Anaheim back in it, but that was as close as they'd get.
The team that's scored the first goal has won all six games thus far in the series, the first ever between the two southern California rivals.
"It's hard to play from behind against these guys," said Ducks' winger Corey Perry. "It's important to get out and get that first goal and play with the lead. They're a different team when they're playing from behind. We've got to go out in Game 7 and really start with that push we need."
It has been an odd series on some levels – not nearly the bad blood you've seen elsewhere around the league, even though both teams like to play the body. Perry occasionally gets under the skin of some of the Kings' players, but no real animosity has bubbled to the surface yet.
Maybe it will after Friday, when one team moves on and the other goes home.
Officially, the temperature was 93 F outside the Staples Center, at puck drop, with limited humidity thankfully.
Still, there were some moments when the ice factored into play, as one sequence in the opening period when Gibson went wandering out of his net to play the puck and was trapped miles away from his net. Unluckily for the Kings' Marian Gaborik, the puck hopped over his stick as he was about to rifle a shot into the wide-open net.
Overall, the Ducks produced only nine shots in the first half of the game, and had very few get to the net. Quick didn't have an overly challenging night until a furious push in the final 90 seconds with Gibson on the bench.
"Even that little push at the end, we were still confident we were going to do the job," said Doughty. "When our team is playing confidently, that's when we're at our best. We showed that tonight. We played a good game. That's a big win in a huge situation. We need to continue to do the same things – and not forget how we won this game and bring it into the next one."
Otherwise, the Kings did a good job of keeping the Ducks' scorers on the outside and they were especially good in killing off all five power-play chances.
Ducks' coach Bruce Boudreau was unhappy with his team's special teams' play and team captain Ryan Getzlaf put the onus on his group, noting that the second PP unit generated some chances, but they didn't get much accomplished. Getzlaf was held off the score sheet for the first time in the series.
"Overall, we didn't create anything and didn't do the things we need to do," said Getzlaf. "We've got to be better than that. We didn't play our best game. These pressure situations are sometimes tough. You've got to give them credit. They played a great hockey game tonight. We've got to make sure we out play them in the next one."
As for Gibson's gaffe on Lewis's game winner, Perry shrugged it off.
"Those things happen," he said. "We're not going to sit here and blame him, not with the saves he made. He made a couple of diving saves – and all the other things he did well. It's the guys in front of him – we have to get him a couple more.
"We just have to put this behind us. It's win and move on or lose and go home. We know what it takes. We've been here before. Last year was a learning curve. Hopefully, we can learn from it."