ANAHEIM, Calif. — Something finally went the way it was supposed to in the Freeway Faceoff series: The home team won at home.
Yet still, the unconventionality of the series continued Monday night as a 20-year-old goaltender stopped 39 shots and a winger only a year older than him scored twice as the Ducks edged the Kings 4-3 in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, Monday night at the Honda Center.
Anaheim takes a 3-2 series lead and will have an opportunity to close out the series Wednesday night in Los Angeles at the Staples Center.
"The youth is really carrying us right now," said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. "They’re solid, solid NHL players."
Turnovers were the undoing of the Kings once against Devante Smith-Pelly capitalized.
He was credited with two goals — one a deflected shot by Matheiu Perreault off a beauty of a feed from Teemu Selanne on the power play and another just over a minute later when he broke away in front of the crease and sliced a backhander past Jonathan Quick. It was his second two-goal effort of the playoffs and he was named the First Star of the Game.
John Gibson continued to impress in goal. He faced tremendous third-period pressure and yielded only a single goal. The only person Gibson couldn’t seem to get a read on was Kings right winger Marian Gaborik, who also had his second two-goal game of the postseason.
"I think I got tested more and they obviously got more shots," Gibson said. "I thought the guys did a really good job in front of me again and I think that’s why we won it."
Gibson is now 5-0-0 in the NHL with a .955 save percentage. By comparison, he has now bested a Stanley Cup goaltender and the Jennings Trophy recipient twice. In the last two games, Jonathan Quick has allowed six goals on 35 shots.
Gibson, all of 20 years old and barely able to even grow a playoff beard, has allowed three goals on 70 shots.
Ducks win third straight to put Kings on verge of elimination
"I don’t think it was a question of whether or not we were going to get good goaltending, I think it was a question of who was going to give it to us," Bonino said. "He played so well (Saturday) night and again tonight. With a lead like that we’ve got to limit some of the chances they get but he stood tall in there and made big saves again at the end and that’s what you need in the playoffs."
While Gibson effectively kept the lead intact, the Ducks nearly gave the game away to the Kings in the final minutes of the game.
Much the way the last game played out, the Kings outshot the Ducks 42-24 and 14-2 over the final 20 minutes.
Gaborik’s redirected backhand late in the third was nearly the undoing of the Ducks. The Kings were outshooting the Ducks 10-2 when Gaborik netted his eighth goal of the postseason to cut the Ducks’ deficit to just one and the Ducks suffered a defensive breakdown.
"We were almost panicking with the puck at times," Bonino said. "You know they’re going to come hard at the end, they’re going to come as hard as they can and they got a goal, they made it a little more interesting with five minutes left."
"I have to believe they think they were robbed tonight," Boudreau said. "As far as the strangeness of the series, I can’t explain it. I can explain that to win four games against this team is going to be the toughest job our team has ever had."
The Kings have faced elimination already this postseason – three times, to be exact – and Wednesday night will be no different. Limiting turnovers and managing the puck will be key to a team that is already playing as desperate as desperate can get.
"We just have to come out and play — there is no secret recipe," said Kings captain Dustin Brown. "We know what we have to do. Itâs a matter of executing our x’s and o’s. The other side of it is the emotional and the stuff you can’t really teach."