ANAHEIM, Calif. – The width of Alec Martinez’s shin guard was the difference between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks in their playoff series opener.
Corey Perry had the puck on his stick with a nearly open net early in overtime, but Martinez managed to block the shot by the Ducks’ best goal-scorer. It happened in an instant, but both players were still thinking about the pivotal play a day later as they prepared for Game 2 on Monday night.
“I guess I channeled my inner goalie, playing in the driveway when I was younger,” Martinez said Sunday after the latest round of congratulations for his game-saving block. “I just tried to get in front of it, and maybe got a little bit lucky, too.”
No hockey game turns on one play, and the Kings wouldn’t have even made it to overtime without Marian Gaborik’s tying goal with 7 seconds left in regulation in their 3-2 win. Several minutes after Martinez’s big save, Gaborik’s game-winner put the Kings up 1-0 in the second round with their fifth consecutive playoff victory.
Both teams expect a long, taxing series between evenly matched opponents with a thorough mutual familiarity. They won’t be surprised if more games in the series come down to one blocked shot, one extra pass or one big save.
Perry still won’t soon forget his missed opportunity to put the Ducks in front in the series.
“I’ve seen it a few times,” said a grimacing Perry, who scored 43 goals in the regular season and two more in the first round against Dallas. “I was up for a while. You think about what it could have been.
“He made a great play,” Perry added. “I thought I had an open net, and obviously I tried to put it in, but he just got his leg on it, and I missed the rebound. Hopefully it’s a different bounce next time.”
Even before the late theatrics, the Southern California rivals’ first playoff meeting was every bit as entertaining as expected. The Kings have little trouble winning on the road, while the Ducks were a dominant home team this season—but neither team is likely to have a distinct home-ice advantage.
“I thought the atmosphere was great,” Kings forward Justin Williams said. “A lot of times when you’re on the road, all you want to hear is silence. But there wasn’t even much silence when we scored. There was a lot of Kings fans there and a lot of support for us, so that was the extra added element to the game. Usually when you score an overtime goal, it’s crickets in the building, and we heard a little something, so Kings fans are making their way down the freeway.”
Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne all had big moments for the Ducks, who controlled play for long stretches and got a strong performance from new starting goalie Jonas Hiller. Anaheim still couldn’t capitalize on its opportunities to pull away, failing to crack the NHL’s best defence with its habitually struggling power play.
The Ducks might have more offensive ability than the Kings, but they also know it won’t matter unless it leads to goals.
“We didn’t bury our few chances,” Getzlaf said. “I don’t think they’ve changed much. They’re still the team we know. They’ve just upped their intensity, and we’ve got to match it.”
The defence-minded Kings have been impressive offensively during their playoff winning streak. Los Angeles has 21 goals in its last five games, and Anze Kopitar has become the post-season’s leading scorer so far.
The Kings are scoring well, but their defensive depth became even shallower in victory: Veteran defenceman Jeff Schultz could make his debut for Los Angeles in Game 2 if injured Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr must sit out. Down to five healthy defencemen for much of Game 1 at Honda Center, the Kings still managed to limit the Ducks to two goals.
“I had a little chat with (coach Darryl Sutter), and he said, ‘Just go out there and play,'” said Schultz, who played for Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau in Washington during his 399 games of NHL experience. “It’s hard to replace a guy like Robyn, but I feel like I’m capable of doing a similar job to what he can do.”