LOS ANGELES – Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau showed the guts of a burglar in choosing 20-year-old rookie John Gibson to start a crucial Game 4 against the Kings at Staples Center.
And Gibson made his coach look brilliant by saving all 28 shots he saw in a 2-0 shutout of LA that evened this Battle for SoCal series at two games apiece.
Gibson, making his postseason debut and playing just the fourth NHL game of his career, was unflappable throughout the night, and the Ducks supported him with first period goals from Devante Smith-Pelly and Ryan Getzlaf at the other end.
"I have confidence in this young man," Boudreau said. "When you call up a young guy, they always have that adrenaline. He played a great game tonight."
At 20 years, 330 days, Gibson became the youngest goalie in NHL history to record a shutout in his playoff debut. He's also the youngest goalie to start a playoff game since Columbus' Steve Mason (20 years and 329 days) on April 23, 2009 vs. Detroit and the youngest to win a playoff game since Montreal's Carey Price (20 years and 238 days) on April 24, 2008 vs. Philadelphia.
Gibson got the nod over Jonas Hiller, despite the fact Hiller was solid (seven saves on eight shots) after replacing Game 3 starter Frederik Andersen, who left in the third period with a lower-body injury and was scratched tonight.
"When I found out I was going to play, I was excited," Gibson said, while remaining as stoic as usual. "I knew the team had to get a win tonight."
Smith-Pelly, who played a good portion of the year with Gibson with Norfolk of the AHL, said of the goalie, "I've watched him all year. You would think there would be some nerves, but there were none."
A lengthy stretch without a shot on goal didn’t hurt the Ducks, who relied on a stingy defense (25 blocked shots) as the Kings tried desperately to get back in the game. Yet they gave a sellout crowd of 18,489 very little to cheer for throughout the evening.
"It was all about our defense," Gibson said. "They cleared the front, and a lot of guys were blocking shots. It's playoff hockey, and you have to do what you have to do. It was a big game, and we came out with the win."
The Ducks got on the board with 3:58 left in the opening period as Corey Perry made a beautiful blind pass from behind the net in front to Smith-Pelly, who chipped it under the crossbar.
Anaheim went up 2-0 on the power play with 1:15 left in the period, as Getzlaf missed a chance at a wide open net, but he recovered the puck and flipped it off the helmet of a sprawled out Jonathan Quick and over the stripe.
"I missed an open net to start, but our guys did a good job around the net," Getzlaf said. "Perry poked it over and I tried to get one on net, then I tried to get one on net. Then it went off Quick and went in."
The Kings made the surprise move going into the second to pull Quick and replace him with rookie Martin Jones. But Jones wasn’t tested in the second, as the Ducks managed no shots on goal the entire period, the first time they had done that in their playoff history. Meanwhile, Gibson saved all 12 shots he saw and got help on one other, as Getzlaf jumped into the crease to block a Drew Doughty bid at an open net.
The Ducks ultimately endured a drought of 25:33 between shots, finally getting one 5:29 into the third period on a four-minute power play stemming from an Anze Kopitar high-sticking on Andrew Cogliano. The Ducks got their only three shots of the period during that stretch, but couldn’t find the net. They ended up with just 14 shots on the night.
But they got away with it by shutting LA down in their own end, evening a series that now moves back to Anaheim for Monday’s Game 5.
"The fifth game is the most important game of the series," Boudreau said. "It always is. They’ll play harder in that game than ever because they know that if they win it in our building, they have a chance to win it in their building. We better be ready."
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