LOS ANGELES – A rookie, John Gibson, in goal for the Ducks? It was just crazy enough to work, and it did.
The improbable is becoming mundane in this second-round playoff series between two teams that seem determined not only to win, but in the strangest ways possible. The hockey gods favor the bold, or at least they did Saturday night when the Ducks beat the Kings 2-0 in Game 4 at Staples Center.
“When I found out I was going to play, I was just excited,’’ Gibson said. “I knew the team had to get a win tonight.’’
This series is tied 2-2 and the home team remains winless. The Ducks won Game 4 even though they went more than 25 minutes without a shot on goal. After falling into an early-series hole, the Ducks have won consecutive games and now seem to have solved their goalie crisis in stunning fashion.
Gibson, the Ducks’ 20-year-old goalie of the future, became their puck-stopper of the present when Coach Bruce Boudreau tabbed him (over veteran Jonas Hiller) to replace the injured Frederik Andersen.
“I only think of, ‘How can we win this game?’” Boudreau said. “Whether it’s unorthodox or orthodox or whatever, that’s just the way my head works.”
The move worked brilliantly. Gibson made 28 saves, the Ducks’ defense protected him well for most of the game, and first-period goals by Devante Smith-Pelly and Ryan Getzlaf (on his 29th birthday) provided enough support.
So much support, in fact, that after their first-period deficit, the Kings -- being soundly outplayed -- pulled all-world goalie Jonathan Quick in favor of Martin Jones, which gave the game a rookie-goalie tandem.
The Kings raised their level of play considerably over the final two periods, and outshot the Ducks 19-3, but couldn’t solve Gibson, whose previous action was in an AHL playoff game in Newfoundland on Wednesday. Gibson went 3-0 in the regular season for the Ducks, including one shutout.
“I’ve never seen a goalie like him, really,” Ducks winger Andrew Cogliano said. “He’s really calm. Before the game it looked like he was getting ready for a pre-season game. … He’s got a little swagger to him. Yeah, he’s going to be good.”
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Gibson (at 20 years, 330 days) became the youngest goalie to record a shutout in his playoff debut and the youngest goalie to win a playoff game since Montreal’s Carey Price (20 years, 238 days) in 2008.
Gibson didn’t seem bothered by the step up in class. Less than four minutes into the game, Gibson made a point-blank save on Marian Gaborik, then robbed Tyler Toffoli when the Kings were pushing in the third period. Gibson got some help from Getzlaf, who blocked a second-period shot in front of an empty net.
In starting Gibson, Boudreau didn’t just pick a goalie. He challenged the rest of the team to support the rookie, to play well in front of him, to give him a chance. In essence, the Ducks had to kid-proof their game.
“We talked about protecting our house a lot better than we did in the first couple games, and paying the price,” Boudreau said.
The Ducks showed that commitment early. In the game’s first seven minutes, the Kings attempted 11 shots, and the Ducks blocked six of them. The Kings had two power plays in the game’s first 10 minutes, and the Ducks not only held them to one (nonthreatening) shot on goal but actually outshot them 2-1.
After a bit of a tepid, wait-and-see start, the Ducks slowly took control of the game. As in Game 3, they were disruptive in the neutral zone and rarely allowed the turnover-prone Kings any threatening chances on the rush.
The Kings went 0 for 4 on the power play and recorded only three shots on goal. For the first half of the game, they weren’t much better at even strength, with little net-front traffic and few second chances.
“(The Ducks) did a good job of keeping us to the outside, keeping our players to the perimeter and not allowing them to get time and space,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. “Some of our top guys have to fight through more.”
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org