LOS ANGELES – The Anaheim Ducks took a must-win Game 3 in their Battle for SoCal series with the Kings. But in typical Ducks fashion, they may have taken a few years off their fans’ lives to earn it.
Holding a seemingly comfortable two-goal lead with less than a minute left, the Ducks had to hang on for dear life to earn a 3-2 victory and cut LA’s lead in this series to 2-1.
In front of another sellout crowd at Staples Center, Anaheim got a critical Ben Lovejoy goal with 2:55 left in the game to give them that two-score cushion, one that would prove even more vital in the closing minute.
The Kings sent goalie Jonathan Quick to the bench for an extra attacker, and Corey Perry had an empty net in front of him on the right wing with less than a minute left. But his stick broke as the shot went way wide, and a few seconds later, the Kings scored on the other end. Tanner Pearson threw a shot on net from the left wing that popped up off Ducks netminder Jonas Hiller, and Mike Richards punched it in out of midair to make it 3-2 Ducks with 30.8 seconds left.
Hiller did not start the game, but subbed in for Frederik Andersen, who played well but suffered a lower-body injury midway through the third period. Hiller saved eight of nine shots and wasn’t tested over the final half-minute as the Ducks were able to keep the Kings out of their zone in those tense moments.
"We have a lot of character in this room, and a lot of depth," Perry said. "We knew it was our biggest game of the year. We couldn’t afford to lose this one. We had to come out and play a strong game. I thought our whole team stepped up and played well."
Lovejoy, who had just five goals this season, gave the Ducks that crucial insurance goal with 2:55 left in the game. On a 2-on-1 rush, he took a feed from Andrew Cogliano, faked a pass to get goalie Jonathan Quick to bite and then sniped a wrist shot over Quick's glove.
"That was the first [fist] pump of my life," said the always-engaging Lovejoy. "That was a pretty special goal for me. It’s not necessarily my job, but it was fun."
It was the third straight victory for the Ducks at Staples Center, and fourth in LA if you include the 3-0 victory over the Kings in the outdoor game at Dodger Stadium on January 25.
Perry had one goal in the game, opening the scoring with his first point of the series 4:06 into the game. With the Ducks on the power play, Ryan Getzlaf shuttled the puck down low to Patrick Maroon, who flipped a nice pass to Perry for the one-timer, with Perry slapping the glass with both fists in celebration. With the assist, Maroon became the first NHL rookie to record a postseason point streak of at least six games since Warren Rychel of the Kings did so in the 1993 playoffs.
LA got even about five minutes into the middle session, on a tic-tac-toe play that went from Anze Kopitar to Marian Gaborik to Jeff Carter for the one-timer.
Anaheim went back in front on the game’s third straight power-play goal, as Nick Bonino made a silky saucer pass to Teemu Selanne, who banged it into the open right half of the net.
"It was a rush that was a broken play," said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. "I thought Nick Bonino made a really great pass, but the reason Teemu Selanne has almost 700 goals is because he goes to the net and stops. That’s why the puck went in."
It appeared that would stand up as the game-winner, until the Richards goal late in the game. Selanne was also poised to earn the game-winner in Game 1, until the Kings tied it with 7.0 seconds left and ultimately won in overtime.
The Ducks had outshot the Kings 72-52 in the first two games of the series, but tonight LA had the edge, 31-22. Quick had 19 saves, while Andersen stopped 22 of 23 Kings shots. Hiller, who took losses in Games 1 and 2, earned a win in relief for the second time this postseason (the first coming in Game 6 of the opening round at Dallas).
"As a goalie, you always have mental challenges," he said. "I’ve been through more than usual the last few weeks."
Tonight's win is satisfying for a Ducks team whom many felt had outplayed the Kings for the majority of Games 1 and 2, only to come away with nothing.
"It plants a seed of doubt," Lovejoy said. "That was our goal tonight. We wanted to come out with a 60-minute effort which we absolutely did. We played a smart game tonight. That’s what we need to do against a real solid team like the Kings."
Game 4 of this series is back at Staples Center on Saturday night. "It’s going to be another tough one," Perry said. "The games are getting tougher and tougher. You have to ramp your game up, be ready to play and be ready to pay the price."
Added Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, "We just enjoy this one tonight and then get ready tomorrow and restart again. It's a matter of recovering and being ready to go with that same effort."
1 - 0 ANA
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 ANA
3 - 1 ANA
3 - 2 ANA