On Wednesday night, the Anaheim Ducks will have a chance to do what the San Jose Sharks failed to do in four opportunities in the first round: eliminate the Los Angeles Kings from the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Of course, doing so won’t be easy, as the Sharks found out. The Kings’ offense kicked into gear in a big way in their final four games against San Jose, outscoring the Sharks by a margin of 18-5 and advancing to the second round as only the fourth team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit to advance.
For the Ducks, beating the Kings will ensure that they will get to the Western Conference Final, where they would host the Chicago Blackhawks in the first two games of the series. They’ve been getting solid goaltending out of rookie John Gibson since head coach Bruce Boudreau put him in the lineup for Game 4 of the series at Staples Center, and with their myriad of scoring threats that includes stars and role players alike, the team is well-poised for a deep playoff run if they can get past the Kings.
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Getting through this series is going to take a big time effort against a team that has played well when its back has been against the wall in this postseason. Part of the reason the Sharks struggled so badly against Los Angeles when they had a chance to put them away was that they kept giving the Kings’ power play opportunities to score. In the first two games of the series, the Sharks only allowed four power play opportunities for Los Angeles, but in the final five contests, they surrendered 20 opportunities, with the Kings scoring six times on the man-advantage.
The Kings also got some tremendous goaltending in those last few games, with Jonathan Quick picking up a shutout in Game 5 of the series and only allowing two goals combined in the remaining two games. He made 170 saves on 175 shots in those final four games, and even though he hasn’t exactly been in top form in this series, he seems to play better when his team’s backs are against the wall.
For the Ducks, the key to the game will be getting Quick out of his comfort zone early. In Game 4 of the series, the Ducks scored two early goals to get out in front, and they never looked back as they cruised to victory. Quick ended up being pulled from the game, and even though Martin Jones was able to keep Anaheim from scoring again, the Kings never quite recovered from the early punches.
Getting a lead early is going to be a key against the Kings because of the way they have come from behind in this series. In Game 1, the Kings scored a late goal to tie things up, and Marian Gaborik ended up winning the contest in overtime with his second goal of the night. The Kings nearly tied things up in Anaheim on Monday night as well, and only a couple of key saves by Gibson late kept the Ducks in front.
With the Ducks likely looking to gain the lead early, the Kings have to come out and play with a sense of urgency from the puck drop. They have gotten away with not doing so in the past, including allowing 17 shots to the Sharks in the first period of their Game 4 matchup in the first round, but trying to come from behind against a Ducks team that is brimming with confidence is a recipe for disaster for Darryl Sutter’s team.
Whichever team ends up gaining the upper hand early in the contest has a great chance to win, and both teams have serious motivation to do so (and to avoid allowing the opponent to grab momentum). The Kings have been in this position several times already in the playoffs, but the Ducks have also shown that they can finish off an opponent as they did by scoring two late goals and an overtime tally to eliminate the Dallas Stars on the road in the first round.
If the first five games of the series are any indication, then fans should be in for another hard-fought, tightly contested game, and either team could emerge victorious from Staples Center.