After an impressive win over the Edmonton Oilers yesterday, the Kings headed on down the freeway to take on the Anaheim Ducks. I touched on this after yesterday’s game, but this was a very important game for the Kings. The Kings and Ducks entered today each with 10 games remaining in their respective regular seasons, but the Ducks had an eight-point advantage over the Kings for the lead in the Pacific Division and the second seed in the Western Conference. However, including today, the Kings had two games remaining against the Ducks, probably needing to win both of those games in regulation in order to have a chance at catching up. If they did, though, they would only need to make up four points in the other eight games. The Ducks were also missing captain Ryan Getzlaf tonight. Of course, even if the Kings don’t catch the Ducks (and finish their time in the Pacific Division with zero division titles), they still need a strong finish to the season to lock up the fourth seed and secure home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The only change to the lineup today was that Jonathan Bernier was in for Jonathan Quick. Bernier has had a very strong season while Quick has had, uh, the opposite kind of season, for the most part. Despite that, coming into today Darryl Sutter has given Quick 27 starts this year compared to just 11 for Bernier. However, the Kings had a back-to-back set of games this weekend, and Sutter opted to use Quick at home against a non-playoff team in the Oilers yesterday, and Bernier today on the road against a Ducks team that has been among the NHL’s best this year. The fact that Sutter decided to use Bernier in a game of this magnitude and Quick in the easier game… well, maybe he’s finally starting to realize that Bernier has given the Kings a better chance to win this year than Quick has. Under the circumstances, this was obviously a big chance for Bernier to earn even more confidence from his coach.
However, the game didn’t start well. Not even three minutes into the first period, from along the boards just above the left circle in the Kings zone, Matt Beleskey passed the puck to Kyle Palmieri coming in at the high left shot, and Palmieri walked in all alone, Bernier pokechecked the puck off of him, but it hit Palmieri’s right skate, and beat Bernier by his right pad. Tough break. Lately, Sutter has more been using Robyn Regehr with Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin with Keaton Ellerby, which I’m not crazy about. As I’ve said before, I prefer Muzzin with Doughty and Regehr with Ellerby. Not even two minutes later, Jarret Stoll headed to the penalty box for boarding. I haven’t always been Stoll’s biggest fan, but his play lately had won me over. However, this was one of his typical dumb penalties that he’s taken all too many of in the past. Doughty and Bobby Ryan took offsetting roughing penalties not even a minute player, so the play stayed at 5-on-4. Fortunately for Stoll, the Kings were able to kill off his penalty, but just over a minute after they did, Ellerby took a penalty for interference. Ellerby’s play has fallen off a bit lately, and he’s going to have to really pick it up, because one thinks he’ll really have to impress in order to not be the guy taken out of the lineup when Matt Greene returns. The Kings killed off Ellerby’s penalty, too, though. Finally, with just over seven minutes to go in the period, the Kings got their first power play, as Sheldon Souray took a hooking penalty, but they failed. It ended up being a pretty even opening frame, one in which they held a 9-8 edge in shots, but ultimately they still trailed where it really matters, in goals, 1-0.
The Kings had a strong finish to the first, but started the second period with Kyle Clifford heading off for high-sticking not even a minute into it. The Kings, however, killed it off. Then just about six minutes into the period, the Kings got another chance to tie the game, as Matthew Lombardi went off for tripping. Shortly into the power play, Dustin Brown worked the puck from along the left boards below by the circle in the Anaheim zone to Doughty at the left point, and Doughty stepped into a slap shot that beat Viktor Fasth over his glove. Fantastic screen by Jeff Carter on the goal. The Kings continued to play strongly, and with just over three minutes to go, Bruce Boudreau called his timeout. The Ducks had just iced the puck and were tired, but couldn’t make a line change. Shortly before, Justin Williams was robbed of a breakaway thanks to a phantom offside call. And that would come back to bite them. With just under two minutes to go, Souray cleared the puck from behind his net along the left boards to Andrew Cogliano, who left the Ducks zone and sent a pass up to his right to Corey Perry, who came into the right slot on a breakaway and beat Bernier by his right pad. Muzzin was totally beaten by Perry (although, to be fair to Muzzin, Perry was cherrypicking), again showing why I prefer having a guy like Doughty with him. However, as the period drew to its conclusion, from the left boards by the circle in the Anaheim zone, Brad Richardson worked the puck below the goal line to Mike Richards, who sent the puck out in front to the crease, where Carter knocked it out of the air and between the legs of Fasth. That was huge for the Kings to get that goal right back and avoid a deficit entering the third period. Remember, if they wanted any hope of winning the division, they pretty much had to win this in regulation. The Kings held a 10-7 edge in shots in the middle frame.
Just over four minutes into the third period, Carter went off for slashing, giving the Ducks a chance to take their third lead of the night. Shortly into it, Saku Koivu worked the puck from the right circle to Souray at the left point, Souray took a shot that Stoll blocked right in front of him, but it went right back to Souray, he sent it on goal, Bernier thought he’d squeezed it against his chest, but he dropped it, and right in front of him, Beleskey picked it up, and put it by Bernier’s right pad. The Kings’ penalty kill had been very good lately, and Bernier had been great all year. Tonight, too. But he had to squeeze that. However, the call on Carter was… weak, to say the least. But, with just under four minutes to go, from the left point along the boards, Williams kept the puck in by backhanding it to Anze Kopitar along the boards by the circle, Kopitar walked to the bottom of the circle, threw it on goal, and it came up and Brown batted it by the glove of Fasth. The Kings had been all over the Ducks, and totally deserved to tie it. The Kings continue to pour it on, but couldn’t find the go-ahead goal. With just over 10 seconds left, they iced the puck (at least, according to the officials). Sutter used his timeout, with his tired group on the ice unable to make a line change. The game ended up going to overtime, despite holding a 16-5 edge in shots in a dominant final frame. The Kings deserved to win this in regulation, but they didn’t. And it put a serious damper on their already small chances of winning their division.
And, after five minutes of an exciting 4-on-4 overtime that settled nothing in which the Kings held a 3-2 edge in shots, they headed to a shootout.
Bobby Ryan shot first for the Ducks, and he came in, made some stickhandles, and beat Bernier on his backhand.
Richards shot next for the Kings, he came in, slowed up at the slot, but then lost control of the puck and Fasth poked it away.
Saku Koivu shot next for the Ducks, and he came into the low shot, moved to his backhand, then made a quick move to his forehand and slid it by Bernier’s right pad.
Carter had to score to keep the Kings alive and he came into the slot, made a move to his backhand, and roofed it by Fasth’s blocker.
Now the ball was back in Bernier’s court, as he had to stop Perry to keep this game going, but Perry walked into the slot and beat Bernier low by his glove.
Well, the Kings can all but forget about ever winning a Pacific Division title now. With just nine games remaining, the Kings now sit nine points back of the Ducks. Even if the Kings win their remaining game against the Ducks, they just don’t have enough time now to catch them. Their focus should now turn to getting the fourth seed in the West and home-ice advantage in the first round. With the shootout loss today, their 48 points has them one ahead of the San Jose Sharks, and they have 21 regulation/overtime wins to San Jose’s 14, but that’s the second tiebreaker. The first is fewer games played (though that obviously becomes irrelevant at the end of the season), and the Sharks have 38 to the Kings’ 39. The Kings have two big games remaining with the Sharks this season. As for tonight, well, exactly what I said after the third period. The Kings outplayed the Ducks, deserved to win this in regulation, but ultimately didn’t win at all. The point they got will help them in their race for fourth, but the point they didn’t get — and the two they gave the Ducks — should knock them out of the division race. The Ducks didn’t have a ton of quality chances in this one and Bernier wasn’t forced to make many big saves (though to be fair, he did have a few), so, unfortunately, he will be judged mainly for one mistake. The first goal he gave up was a total fluke, and the second goal was a breakaway by Perry, one of the most dangerous players in the game, and he made a great shot. The third goal, he just has to squeeze that. Oh, and he couldn’t stop a thing in the shootout. He was 0-for-4 on breakaways if you count the shootout and Perry’s breakaway in the second period. Sure, it may be a bit harsh to blame him on breakaways (which have never been Bernier’s speciality, really), but he could have at least stopped one… and, of course, the biggest mistake was the brutal rebound on Beleskey’s goal. Anyways, the Kings will finish this mini two-game road trip with a game against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, and that’s a win the Kings should probably get (well, they definitely should, the question is whether they will or not), so we’ll see if they do get it. Whether they do or not, be sure to check in for my post-game reaction after the game. For now, it’s time for my picks for tonight’s three stars.
Third Star: Dustin Brown.
A nice game from the captain, who was all over the place all night long. He ended up getting rewarded on the scoresheet, too. He made a great pass to Doughty on the Kings’ first goal, then showed great hand-eye coordination to bat the puck out of the air late to tie up the game.
Second Star: Sheldon Souray.
Souray logged 22:51 of action in this one, and along with strong defensive play, helped set up a couple of Ducks goals. He started the breakout on their second goal, then got the puck on goal on their third one.
First Star: Matt Beleskey.
A very strong game for Beleskey. On the first goal, he blocked Regehr’s clearing attempt along the boards and then set up Palmieri. On their third goal, he alertly picked up a rebound and slid it by Bernier. Like Brown, he was all over the ice tonight, and like Brown, he was rewarded on the scoresheet.
Follow me on Twitter, @Jack_Weber_.