Game 7; LA wins series 4-3
ANAHEIM - Both teams entered Game 7 having taken part in a very even series. Through the first six games, both teams exchanged 13 goals. But in the seventh and deciding game, it was the Los Angeles Kings who pulled away - with a vengeance - as they convincingly beat the Anaheim Ducks by a 5-2 score to advance to the Western Final and a year-long-anticipated rematch with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Entering Friday night, the Kings were 5-0 in elimination games this postseason while the Ducks were facing elimination for the first time this spring. Following Game 5's loss, I stressed that the Kings needed a strong start if they wanted to win their next game and ultimately the series. In Game 7, they did just that as the Honda Center, nearly filled with fans of the silver-and-black, exploded early and often.
Just 4:30 into the game, it was fittingly the most productive Game 7 scored who drew first blood. After netminder John Gibson stopped a Mike Richards shot in close, Justin Williams jumped on the rebound, potting his fifth of the playoffs and his sixth in Game 7's. With his goal (a power play marker), Williams moved to within one tally of the NHL record for goals in Game 7's set by six-time Stanley Cup champion, Glenn Anderson. Slava Voynov picked up the second assist on the goal. But the Kings were just getting started.
4:18 after Williams opened the scoring, Marian Gaborik fed a streaking Jeff Carter who broke in on a partial breakaway before backhanding his shot past Gibson to make it 2-0 Los Angeles. The goal, Carter's fourth, was also assisted by Tyler Toffoli.
A little while later, Corey Perry was rewarded a penalty shot but was unable to muster anything on the happen. Then, to make matters for the home team, the silver-and-black struck just moments later as Mike Richards picked up a loose rebound off a Dwight King shot to pot his second of the spring. Just like that, it was 3-0 Los Angeles.
Once the second period started, it didn't take long for the Kings to further extend their lead. At the 2:02 mark, Anze Kopitar snapped his league-leading eighth goal past Gibson (from Drew Doughty and Kyle Clifford) to make it 4-0. That was the end of John Gibson's night as the big netminder, bright future and all, was replaced by Jonas Hiller. But the Kings just kept coming.
At the 14:08 mark of the middle frame - and with the Kings on the power play - Marian Gaborik notched his ninth of the playoffs to make it 5-0 Los Angeles. With the goal, Gaborik matched his career-high in postseason goals set back in 2003 when he was a member of the Minnesota Wild who, that year, made it to the Western Final.
With just under three minutes left in the second, Kyle Palmeiri spoiled Jonathan Quick's shutout bid to put Anaheim on the board. Then, early in the third, Corey Perry scored to cut the Anaheim deficit to three. But that was as close as the Ducks would get as Tanner Pearson netted his second to regain the Kings' four-goal lead - and that was all she wrote on this night.
While Justin Williams - Mr. Game 7 to me and Sultan of Game Seven to yours truly - set the tone early, this was a collective effort by the winning side. Kyle Clifford, for instance, was a healthy scratch just two games ago but recorded two assists in Game 7. Then, there's Jonathan Quick who just seems to be at his best in Game 7's. While his play wasn't counted upon as much, No. 32 did make 21 saves en route to the win, improving the Kings to 6-0 in elimination games this spring.
With the series win, the Los Angeles Kings become the first team in North American Pro Sports history to win two series in the same playoff year after losing three-straight games in both. My thanks to TSN's James Duthie for that bit of information.
Among other things, what was to be most impressive for the Kings this series was that they played the nearly the entire series without the services of their two most defensive-minded defensemen in Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr. Mitchell didn't play at all in this series while Regehr got injured in the early stages of Game 1. But like their series versus San Jose last round, the Kings looked to be dead in the water... until they faced elimination. What a series.
But now, the Kings advance to their third-straight Western Conference Final (first time in team history) and the second-straight year against the Chicago Blackhawks, the team who ousted Los Angeles in five games last spring. But last spring, the Hawks eliminated the Stanley Cup champions in the Kings and this year, the shoe is on the other foot as the silver-and-black look to dethrone Jonathan Toews and company. But more on that later.
On a negative note, what was almost lost in Friday's victory for the Kings was the final NHL game of future Hall-of-Famer Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks. The 43-year-old was hoping to make one last championship push, but his quest fell short at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings. Nevertheless, if this was it for the Finnish Flash, then he walked away from hockey as one of the greatest, classiest players in the game.