ANAHEIM, Calif. – The playoff mystique surrounding the Los Angeles Kings is difficult to verbalize.
The Kings are good in the regular season, typically good enough to make the playoffs. You could say that they peak at the right time.
Or you could just call them a playoff team.
"We’ve got one goal in mind," said Kings center Anze Kopitar. "It’s no secret."
With a 6-2 win over the Ducks Friday night at the Honda Center, the Kings won their second Game 7 of the postseason and dispatched of their Freeway Faceoff rivals to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the third straight year.
"It was definitely our best game in the series," Kopitar said. "It seems like we play our best hockey when our backs against the wall."
The Blackhawks, the team that foiled its bid to repeat as Stanley Cup champs a year ago, awaits them in the next round, beginning Sunday afternoon at the United Center.
"It’s a stepping stone," said Kings captain Dustin Brown. "Getting back there is one thing, but obviously, there were some things that we didn’t do last year that we want to do this year. The team that we’re going up against got the job done last year, so we have to reload now."
The Kings scored five goals in less than two full periods, putting a mountain in front of Anaheim that proved too high to climb.
The team that has scored the first goal in each seven games has been victorious, but it was evident from the first shift that L.A. was going to come out with a ferocity unseen so far in the postseason. Justin Williams — also known as "Mr. Game 7" with an average of two points per game in the final elimination contests — converted on the power play and the Ducks were suddenly on their heels.
"I think we tried to focus on having a good start, everybody’s first shift and obviously when you score the first goal, it’s been an advantage of this series," said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter.
The six goals came from six different goal scorers. It was as if the Ducks were lost right from the start, skating around in chaos without much focus. They couldn’t move the puck, let alone even possess it, allowing for an inordinate number of odd-man rushes. Mistakes led to penalties, and the penalty kill was no better.
"It’s tough to explain," said Ducks center Andrew Cogliano. "Simply, I don’t know. I don’t know what we were doing. I thought we were mentally in the right spot before the game. I thought we were planning on coming out hard against them. They had a couple good shifts to start and it just seemed like we gave them more odd-man rushes in the first 20 minutes than we did all series."
After going down in the series 3-2, the Kings emphasized playing "desperate." Yet it was the Ducks who quickly became the desperate team and the Kings the dominant one.
They rendered MVP candidate Ryan Getzlaf and a former MVP ineffective, leaving Corey Perry to slam his stick all around the ice in what was likely a birthday he won’t be celebrating.
The onetime wunderkind goaltender John Gibson finally played a game that was too big for him.
"I didn’t want to pull him at all," said head coach Bruce Boudreau. "In a normal situation, we probably would have pulled the goalie after the third goal in the first period but we didn’t want to pull John."
Gibson suddenly looked every bit the 20-year-old he is, giving up two more in the first period and one early in the third before Jonas Hiller took over in relief. Gibson finished with 18 saves and was charged with his second career NHL loss.
"He made some big saves in the first period to keep it as close as it was," Boudreau said. "But when they got the fourth I thought, ‘OK, now it’s more for protecting him than anything else.’ "
The first-ever Freeway Faceoff series is in the rearview mirror, headed west to El Segundo on the 105. It featured seven brilliant games that forged the beginnings of what is now turning into one of the best rivalries in hockey.