ANAHEIM, Calif. — Over the last few days, the Kings have shot down all talk of a rivalry with the Ducks. Rivalries are only created in the postseason, they said.
But Saturday night at the Honda Center, with just seven seconds left in the first-ever postseason meeting between the two teams, a snipe by the Kings’ Marian Gaborik changed the storyline with a game-tying goal. Gaborik then scored again in overtime to give the Kings the first win in the Western Conference Semifinals, or better known as the Freeway Faceoff series.
The foundation of a rivalry was officially laid.
"When you get scored on with seven seconds to go, it’s a tough pill to swallow," said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. "I think this is what all the games are going to be like."
The first game of the series that Southern California has been anticipating for the last 20 years was everything advertised. The Ducks played fast while the Kings played physical. Anaheim pounded the Kings defense in strong flurries but the Kings’ pushed back. The theme of the game was the forecheck and it was established early.
But Anze Kopitar and Gaborik successfully led the comeback and proved to be the difference when matched up against the Ducks’ top center-right pair in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Each finished with three points while Getzlaf managed two and Perry did not make it to the score sheet.
"We need our top guys to out-play their top guys," said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. "That Perry-Getzlaf line – not that the other lines aren’t good lines, because they are – but that one really carries that team and they lead that team. When they’re on their game, everyone else follows."
After Teemu Selanne scored early in the third period to break a 1-1 tie, the Kings took it right down to the wire. Goaltender Jonathan Quick was pulled for an extra attacker. They needed needed 68 seconds of the 75 total that Quick was off the ice for as Drew Doughty set up Mike Richards for a pass off the boards and found Gaborik set up on the crease for the goal.
In overtime, Kopitar’s shot was deflected by Gaborik’s backhand. It was an almost unbelievable goal.
"In overtime, Kopi makes a great play to someone going to the net. Not many guys can score those goals but you have to go to the net, for sure," said Kings head coach Darry Sutter. "Both those goals were classic goals, you have to go to the net to score in the playoffs."
Despite the onslaught of shooting from the Ducks, Quick finished with 33 saves.
"It’s pretty painful right when it happens but it is what it is," said Ducks center Andrew Cogliano. "I thought we had some really good chances. Some got blocked, a couple hit the post, there were a couple that we couldn’t get over (Quick). He takes away the bottom of the net really well, and we put a couple in his pads.
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"You know what? It could have gone either way. I thought they got one chance in overtime and they scored."
Jonas Hiller made his first start in nearly month, with has last coming April 6 against cellar-dwelling Edmonton. He gave up three goals in the loss, and had appeared to return to old form. The Kings had two good chances in the final minute before Gaborik found the net but Hiller denied them both.
"I think he played really good tonight. I don’t know where you could fault him on anything," Boudreau said. "You’re looking at a 3-2 overtime loss where both teams played equally."
A sellout crowd played a role, fueling both teams as loud "Go Kings Go!" chants broke through the sea of orange. Both coaches lauded the atmosphere with Alec Martinez even going so far as to say he thinks the Kings’ fanbase is one of the most underrated in the NHL.
If Game 1 is any indication of how the rest of the series will play out, it’s going to be a tight, heated battle.