By Adam Brady
LOS ANGELES – It had all the pomp and circumstance deserving of an outdoor game in Southern California, but to Ducks fans it came with one important element: a victory over the rival Kings.
In baseball terms, Jonas Hiller threw a virtually perfect game, saving all 36 shots in a 3-0 victory over LA in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 54,099 at iconic Dodger Stadium. One of four Coors Light NHL Stadium Series games played this season, this one was played under a clear night sky in pleasant conditions and a temperature that never dropped below the low-60s. Despite the lack of cold, players had good reviews of the ice conditions.
"It was awesome," said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf. "When we got out there and saw the people and the support of Southern California, it was unbelievable. The whole week has been a blast."
The Ducks got second-period goals from Corey Perry and Matt Beleskey, and added an empty-netter from Andrew Cogliano in the game’s waning moments to secure a second straight victory in three nights over their bitter rivals. Anaheim knocked LA off 2-1 two nights ago at Honda Center behind goalie Frederik Andersen, as Hiller sat that one out.
In Hiller’s previous game, a rare home loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday night, he had been replaced by Andersen mid-game. Tonight he bounced back with one of his best performances of the season.
"I got in the game early, and we did a really good job of clearing space so I could see shots," Hiller said.
Said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, Hiller was so good tonight. I think halfway through the third I said it doesn't matter. They're not going to beat him. It was his Karma, like he was on."
In handing the Kings a fifth straight loss, the Ducks moved seven points in front of the Blackhawks for the best record in the league and 19 points in front of LA.
"I thought the energy was fabulous," Boudreau said. "I can't even talk now because players couldn't hear me five feet from me when you're trying to tell them who is up or screaming on the ice. So I thought the energy stayed pretty well near the end."
While the action within the rink's walls was appealing enough, there was plenty going on elsewhere inside the stadium. Beach volleyball was going on in left field, while youth players skated on an auxiliary rink built over home plate during the pregame and intermissions. The band KISS performed before the game and during the first break, while Jordin Sparks sang a wonderful rendition of the national anthem, and Five for Fighting played between the second and third.
As a nod to the tenants of this 52-year-old stadium, legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully addressed the crowd just prior puck drop, announcing to the sellout crowd, “It’s time for NHL hockey!”
When it was all over, fireworks exploded from around the rink as the Ducks held their sticks in the air to salute the remaining crowd, as the Kings headed off to their dugout.
"These games are so much fun to be a part of, but they’re not easy to get ready for," said Ducks center Saku Koivu. "But when you win, it’s an amazing experience. Every couple years would be fun to be a part of it. I don’t know how much they can do it better here. It was just a fantastic experience for fans, media and the players. When you come up with two points, you can smile after the game. It’s great."
Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy said he took this approach to blocking out the distractions of playing in front of 54,000-plus in a baseball stadium. "I tried not to look up," he said. "I think all of us were focused on the task at hand, but after the game, when the fireworks exploded, that was really cool. I’m glad we could salute the crowd and soak it all in for one more minute. That was something I’ll never forget."
The Ducks got in front for good by scoring twice in the game’s first 10 minutes on their way to a 2-0 lead that lasted through the opening 40 minutes.
"In a game like this, when there’s so much build up to it, when you come out and get two early goals, it’s beneficial," said Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler. "It took the excitement out of the LA fans and we drowned them out a bit. You have to tip your cap to that team. They played really hard and they threw everything at us."
Perry broke the ice 2:45 after the opening draw, as Ryan Getzlaf fired a shot from the left wing circle that leaked behind goalie Jonathan Quick, and Perry helped it over the stripe.
Anaheim struck again at 8:12 of the first, as Nick Bonino fed from behind toward Beleskey, who had the puck deflect off his skate, then off Quick’s stick before it fluttered into the net.
The Ducks held that lead 9:46 into the period when Jonas Hiller stonewalled Anze Kopitar on a penalty shot, which was earned when Ben Lovejoy hooked Kopitar from behind on a breakaway. ("He bailed me out big time," Lovejoy said.)
"He looked like he lost the puck on that attempt a little bit," Hiller said. "I was happy to make the save."
The Kings were active in the Anaheim zone all night, but the Ducks blocked 17 shots while Hiller took care of the rest.
"If it wasn’t for Hillsy," Fowler said, "we wouldn’t be here today."
Teemu Selanne admitted yesterday that this game was one of the many reasons he elected to return this season for his swan song in the NHL.
"This was so much fun," he said. "There wasn’t one thing to say negative about this. We should do it in Anaheim, or San Jose, or anywhere. It was unbelievable."
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