The Anaheim Ducks had a golden opportunity to knock off the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night, but thanks to an 0-for-5 performance on the power play and only putting 22 shots on goal, they dropped a 2-1 decision and put themselves in a do-or-die Game 7 situation on Friday night.
Fortunately for the Ducks, they are on home ice, but unfortunately for them, they are facing a team that is already 5-0 in elimination games in these playoffs, including a run of four consecutive victories over the San Jose Sharks to become only the fourth team in NHL history to advance when facing a 3-0 series deficit.
With that in mind, how can the Ducks finish off the pesky Kings and set up a Western Conference Final battle with the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks? We have our Three Keys to the game here:
Can John Gibson Stay Strong in Net?
When head coach Bruce Boudreau rolled the dice and put in John Gibson over Jonas Hiller in Game 4 of this series, his gamble paid immediate dividends. Gibson racked up 28 saves and picked up a shutout as the Ducks tied up the series at two games apiece, and critics everywhere lauded Boudreau for making the call to start the 20-year old rookie.
Unfortunately for the Ducks, the road hasn’t been quite as smooth in the ensuing games. They did win Game 5 of the series to take a 3-2 lead over Los Angeles, but Gibson was peppered with 42 shots on goal. In Game 6, the Kings ended up sneaking away with a 2-1 victory, but Gibson looked more pedestrian as he made 21 saves in the losing effort.
The question now with the series shifting back to Anaheim is this: can Gibson regain the form that he displayed earlier in the season and outperform Jonathan Quick? The answer to this question will go a long way toward determining who wins the series, but if the last few games are any indication, the answer is far from clear in either direction.
Depth Scoring, As Always, a Must
The Ducks have been scoring from all over their lineup so far in the playoffs, with guys like Kyle Palmieri and Devante Smith-Pelly both stepping up in a big way to complement Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in that department.
With the ability to dictate line matchups on home ice in Game 7, Boudreau and company have to be able to maneuver his lines in order to get favorable ice time for those type of players. The Kings will have to do everything in their power just to slow down Getzlaf and Perry, but if players like Palmieri, Smith-Pelly, and Patrick Maroon can come through in a big way, then that will put extra pressure on the Kings and likely give the Ducks a decided advantage in the contest.
Ducks Must Take Every Shot Opportunity
In the first three games in the series, the Ducks were racking up tons of shots on goal, with 72 in just the first two games, and even though they dropped both contests, they put a ton of pressure on Quick and company. In the last four games, the Ducks’ offense has ended up getting far fewer chances, with only 82 shots on goal in those contests. They are 3-1 over the past four games, but that isn’t a sustainable recipe for success for a team that thrives when they are dictating things on offense.
Shot quality is always an important component to games, but for the Ducks, quantity could be equally important on Friday night. Keeping Quick busy will not only help them to maintain control of the game, but it will also keep the pressure off of the Anaheim defense and goaltending. Doing that would be great for a rookie goaltender playing in his first NHL Game 7, and it will also open the door to the next round.