When the Los Angeles Kings brought winger Marian Gaborik into the fold via trade near the deadline in March, they did so for one specific reason: they needed a goal scorer who would demand the attention of defenses and open things up for the rest of his teammates.
If Game 1 of the Kings’ series against the Anaheim Ducks is any indication, then Gaborik is delivering exactly what he promised. The winger not only scored the game-tying goal with just seven seconds left in the third period, but he also scored the game-winning tally in overtime on a nifty feed from Anze Kopitar near the halfway mark of the frame. The goals were Gaborik’s fourth and fifth of the postseason, and they are the continuation of a pattern of play that he has been displaying in recent games.
On the first goal, Gaborik was the beneficiary of some good luck, but he used his quick hands and hand-eye coordination to take advantage of the gift he was given. With the Kings pressing in the closing seconds of the game, Mike Richards’ shot from the boards ended up hitting Anaheim defenseman Bryan Allen’s stick. The puck then deflected off of Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller, and it popped about a foot off the ice. Gaborik, who was crashing the net to try to get to a rebound, somehow was able to whack the puck out of midair and past Hiller to tie the game at 2-2, stunning a raucous Honda Center crowd into silence and sending the game into overtime.
The play was the result of numerous contributions from several players. Richards once again verified the old hockey adage that getting the puck to the net is always a good move, and Gaborik’s willingness to get to the front of the net ended up resulting in a great scoring opportunity. He took advantage of it, and it gave his team a chance to win.
Gaborik’s second goal was equally impressive, as three different players ended up playing a key role in the play. With the puck moving along the boards, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty was able to win possession of it with a quick stick check, and he flipped a pass out to the middle of the zone. Anaheim’s defense, overly committed to the near side of the ice, left Anze Kopitar wide open in the slot, and by the time a defender finally chased him down, the Slovenian winger had already feathered a pass into Gaborik, who once again was camped out by the crease. The talented winger squeezed a shot past Hiller, and his teammates mobbed him on the ice as the Kings grabbed a series lead.
Both plays illustrate not only what Gaborik brings to the table as a stellar offensive talent, but they also show just how much of an impact he has on the Kings’ overall team game. There aren’t many players who could have made the plays that Gaborik made to score on those two goals, and the Kings are a much better offensive team as a result of having him in the lineup. If he can continue to play with that kind of intensity and willingness to go to the dirty areas to score goals, then the Kings will be in good shape in this series, and their early success has a big chance of continuing.