In Game 6 of their first-round series against the Dallas Stars, the Anaheim Ducks stormed back from a two goal deficit in the closing two minutes, tying the game in the closing seconds and eventually winning the contest in overtime to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
On Saturday night, the Ducks had the tables turned on them in a big way by their crosstown rivals, as the Los Angeles Kings used a goal off the stick of Marian Gaborik to tie things up with about seven seconds remaining in the game. The Ducks had the upper hand throughout much of the ensuing overtime period, but once again it was Gaborik who came in to save the day for the Kings as he scored the overtime winner off a nifty feed from Anze Kopitar to give Los Angeles the 1-0 lead in the Freeway Face-off.
Despite ultimately losing the game, there were still plenty of positives that the Ducks can pull from the game as they try to prepare to salvage a split at the Honda Center with a win in Game 2 on Monday night. First and foremost, they got an excellent goaltending performance out of Jonas Hiller, who despite surrendering an early goal to Alec Martinez in the first period played a rock solid game. He ended up making 33 saves, and matched Jonathan Quick save for save in a second period that saw both teams really begin to find their offensive groove.
The Ducks also continued to get good secondary scoring from some unexpected sources. Sure, the regular crew was there, as Teemu Selanne scored the go-ahead goal with about 12 minutes to go in regulation, and Corey Perry also had a couple of great scoring chances that were ultimately robbed by the post. Instead of those guys stealing the show, you had players like Matt Beleskey and Devante Smith-Pelly doing the dirty work, creating opportunities by crashing the net and moving the puck around the zone effectively despite an aggressive forechecking effort from the Kings.
Perhaps most importantly of all, the Ducks’ team defense really locked down after they surrendered the power play goal to Martinez in the second period. At that point in the game, the Kings were up 5-1 in shots on goal, but following the tally, the Ducks prevented Los Angeles from getting another shot on goal for the next 16 minutes on the ice. No matter what tactics the Kings attempted to deploy, whether it was pressing the tempo or trying to dump and chase to get zone entry, the Ducks seemed to have an answer for every punch, and if it hadn’t been for an outstanding period and a half of play from Quick, the Ducks may well have grabbed the lead and really put the screws to their rivals.
That defensive effort was predicated largely on preventing Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty from creating scoring opportunities, and until the very end of regulation, they were successful. Doughty was hit constantly throughout the night, and he only managed two shots on goal despite playing nearly five minutes of power play time in the game. Taking away his space and forcing him out to the boards was a really effective strategy for Anaheim, and even though it was his brilliant play to push the puck to the middle of the ice that enabled Kopitar to pick up the game winning assist, Doughty’s performance has to be chalked up as a win for the Ducks.
Unfortunately for Bruce Boudreau and company, moral victories aren’t worth the bandwidth they’re praised with, and his team is still down 1-0 in a series to a team that has now won five games in a row. It will be interesting to see what adjustments the Ducks make as they try to win Game 2, but one thing is for certain. The odds are in their favor if their successes in that game mirror the ones that they experienced in the first game of the series.