The Anaheim Ducks had a chance to tie up their series with the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, but they were going to be forced to do so without one of their key pieces, as goaltender Frederik Andersen was scratched from the game because of a lower body injury he sustained in the third period of Anaheim’s Game 3 victory at Staples Center.
In a move that was surprising to a lot of experts and fans, Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau rolled the dice and started rookie goaltender John Gibson in the game over established veteran Jonas Hiller, who had started the first two games of the series. Gibson burst onto the scene well for the Ducks in his regular season debut, picking up a shutout in his first game, but with his most recent experience taking place at the AHL level, it was hard to predict how he would fare in his first NHL playoff game.
In the first period of the game, Gibson answered that question rather emphatically. Kings defenseman Alec Martinez tested the youngster early with a shot from the point that was well-screened by traffic in front of the cage. Gibson managed to catch sight of the puck just in time, and pushed it aside with ease. A little bit later, Gibson faced down the downright dangerous Marian Gaborik on a 2-on-1 rush, and when Gaborik rifled a wrist shot in on net, the 20-year old netminder managed to get his glove on the shot to keep the game scoreless.
After his team staked him to a 2-0 lead, Gibson continued to stand on his head for the team. After making yet another save on a wicked wrister from Gaborik, the goaltender made a couple of key saves a few minutes later. Jake Muzzin blasted a slapshot from near the blue line with traffic in front, and Gibson made the stop. After Jarret Stoll barely missed a shot on the doorstep, Justin Williams got a chance of his own from within 15 feet, but Gibson made another stop to preserve the lead.
That sequence was one of several in the second period in which Gibson had to be in top form. The Ducks didn’t manage a single shot on goal in the frame, but the Kings kept pounding away and eventually racked up 12 of them. Plays by Ryan Getzlaf, who blocked a shot attempt from Drew Doughty in the goal crease during a mad scramble, certainly helped Gibson out, but ultimately his play in that period saved his team from disaster as passivity ended up taking over their game on the offensive side of things.
In the third period, the Kings didn’t get quite as many chances, but Gibson continued to stand strong, making seven saves to preserve the shutout and to make a bit of NHL history. From Jeff Veillette of Leafs Nation:
Anaheim's John Gibson is the first NHL goalie in 86 years (Tiny Thompson, 1928) to earn a shutout in his regular season AND playoff debuts
— Jeff Veillette (@Jeffler) May 11, 2014
Going into this game, there may have been a ton of questions about whether or not Boudreau made the right decision to keep Hiller in a backup role even with Andersen out, but Gibson answered the challenge in the biggest way possible. Without his stellar play, the Ducks would have been in serious danger of going down 3-1 in this series, and even though he may not get another start depending on whether or not Andersen is healthy for the next game, he has made one of the biggest impacts in a game of any Ducks player in this postseason run.