On Saturday, May 10, 2014 the Anaheim Ducks beat the Los Angeles Kings by a score of 2-0, to even the second round Stanley Cup playoff series at 2-2. This first-ever postseason meeting between these two Southern California based NHL franchises is proving quite memorable. In that critical Game 4, Anaheim built a 2-0 lead in the first period, and then hung on to win despite being held to zero shots on goal in the second period, and just three shots in the third. This statistical anomaly is but a microcosm of this series.
Here is a look at some of the nuances of this series:
Over the course of four games, five different goaltenders have seen action. Three of those goaltenders (Frederik Andersen and John Gibson of the Ducks, and Martin Jones of the Kings) are rookies. The road team has won all four games. The Kings took the first two games in Anaheim, the Ducks took the next two in Los Angeles. Both teams have won games in which they were outshot by a wide margin. The Kings posted a 3-1 victory in Game 2 despite having been outshot 37-17. The Ducks posted a 2-0 victory in Game 4 despite having been outshot 28-14.
Injuries may become a factor - Kings Defenseman Willie Mitchell has yet to play in this series, and defenseman Robyn Regehr has not played since Game 1. For the Ducks, winger Matt Beleskey, center Mathieu Perrault, and goalie Frederik Andersen, missed Game 4. The injury to versatile winger Matt Beleskey may have worked out well for the Ducks. Beleskey had been skating on the top line, with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. When Beleskey went out of the lineup, 6'0", 222 lb winger Devante Smith-Pelly took his spot on the top line. Smith-Pelly not only scored the game-winning goal, but was effective all night. Smith-Pelly's four shots on goal led the Ducks. Once healthy, Beleskey will no doubt be immediately inserted back into the starting lineup, but it appears as though that spot on the top line will belong to Smith-Pelly, as long as the 21-year old continues to play his hard-nosed style.
This series is now down to a best-of-3, with Anaheim having home ice advantage (if you can call it that). The Kings cannot win the series unless they win at least one more game in Anaheim. One of the more interesting head-to-head matchups in the series, has been Ducks' center Getzlaf going against Kings' center Anze Kopitar. Kopitar seemed to get the best of Getzlaf in the first two games, and then Getzlaf seemed to turn the tables a bit in Games 3 and 4. This will be one of the keys to the series, as will the Anaheim goaltending situation. Ducks' Head coach Bruce Boudreau has started three different netminders in four games. Based on his performance in Game 4, I would guess that John Gibson is now the number one guy. Gibson was named #1 star of Game 4, and also became the youngest goalie in NHL history to record a shutout in his first NHL playoff game. In his four career NHL (3 reg season, 1 postseason) starts, Gibson is now 4-0, with a 1.00 goals against avg, and .965 save percentage. Gibson has stopped 111 of the 115 NHL shots he has faced.
An upstart rookie in one goal, a seasoned former Conn Smythe trophy winner (Jonathan Quick, 2012) in the other. This is great stuff, but no matter how this all turns out, the Getzlaf/Kopitar matchup will wind up being under the most scrutiny, given the relative stature of the two players, and the magnitude of the moment. This season, Getzlaf is an MVP finalist, and Kopitar is a finalist for the Selke (best defensive forward). Interestingly enough, it is Kopitar who currently leads the NHL in playoff scoring, with 4 goals and 11 assists in 11 games played.
Scoring has been at a premium in this series. Over the course of four games, only 16 total goals have been scored; 8 by each team. Normally, these low-scoring games would tend to favor the L.A. Kings, but Anaheim seems to have found a nice rhythm though playing outside their normal free-wheeling comfort zone.
Game 5 will be played on Monday night, May 12 in Anaheim. After that, one of these two teams will be facing elimination in Game 6 on Wednesday night in Los Angeles. If needed, it may all come down to a Game 7 in Anaheim on Friday night. Hold on tight, and enjoy the ride.