ANAHEIM, Calif. – If anybody still doubted the balance of power in southern California hockey has shifted north, the Los Angeles Kings confirmed it with a comeback win that left even their biggest rivals impressed by this playoff-bound club’s tenacity.
Michal Handzus tied it with 1:09 left in regulation to cap the Kings’ rally from a three-goal deficit, and Anze Kopitar scored the decisive shootout goal in Los Angeles’ 5-4 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night.
Justin Williams had a goal and an assist in the third period for the Kings, who trailed 4-1 late in the second period before rallying for their fourth win in six games against Anaheim in the annual Freeway Faceoff. While Los Angeles clinched its first playoff berth since 2002 two days earlier, the Ducks were eliminated from the post-season for the first time since before the NHL work stoppage in 2004-05.
Los Angeles moved up to sixth in the Western Conference standings, one point ahead of Detroit.
“Young guys figure out how to work hard on a daily basis, and I think they’ve figured it out,” Kings coach Terry Murray said. “We talked about making the playoffs as our goal this year in training camp, and the young guys in there should be proud of themselves. The second half of this game is what we need to bring into our last three games and beyond.”
After Williams trimmed the Ducks’ lead to 4-3 with 12:04 to play, Los Angeles evened it with its first rush after goalie Erik Ersberg left the net. Williams chipped a pass from the wall and past Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer to Handzus, who poked it home for his 19th goal.
Jack Johnson and Kopitar scored in the shootout, while Ersberg stopped Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu.
“It didn’t look like we were coming back after their fourth one,” said Ersberg, who made 12 saves after relieving Jonathan Quick early in the second period. “I’m really happy we turned it around and got the two points we really deserved tonight. We just kept going, trusted our system and trusted our team, so it worked out.”
Alexander Frolov and captain Dustin Brown also scored for the Kings, who pulled Quick after the franchise’s single-season wins leader yielded three goals on eight shots in the first 22:01.
The Kings’ victory masked a growing problem with Quick, who has failed in six straight tries to win his 40th game, getting pulled twice and allowing 17 goals with an .867 save percentage since March 24. Murray even gave Quick two games off last week to work on his technique, and rookie Jonathan Bernier looked sharp in two victories before getting sent back to the minors.
Early in the second period, Quick and Kings defenceman Randy Jones handed Anaheim its third goal by horribly botching an exchange behind the net, sending the puck straight to Bobby Ryan in front for his 32nd goal while Quick still was behind the net.
Murray said Quick’s “concentration was a bit off here.”
“He’s at a critical position, (but) he will bounce back,” Murray added. “He’s been through these kinds of (slumps) at different times of the year, and he’s always come back and responded the right way.”
Teemu Selanne scored two goals for the Ducks, who weren’t officially out of the playoff race until moments before the shootout began. That’s when the Colorado Avalanche won their own shootout against Vancouver to eliminate Anaheim, capping a disappointing season for the 2007 Stanley Cup champions.
“It’s hard to lose when you’re up 4-1,” Selanne said. “It’s an example of what happens when you stop forechecking and shooting. We knew it was a long shot to make the playoffs, but we still wanted to play well.”
Ryan and Jason Blake each had a goal and an assist for the Ducks, who seemed to be cruising to their ninth victory in 12 games before the evening fell apart – just like the season of a club that couldn’t make the playoffs with eight Olympians in its lineup.
“Today was a game that was very similar to many that we played this year,” Niedermayer said. “It was disappointing to let it get away. It’s been a tough year. We’re disappointed that we’re in this situation. We’re not happy at all.”
Selanne scored his 604th and 605th career goals to extend a late surge in what the Finnish forward says is likely his final NHL season. He has five goals in the Ducks’ last four games, moving within three goals of Dino Ciccarelli for 16th place on the league’s career goal-scoring list.
Ducks backup goalie Curtis McElhinney made 36 saves. Anaheim played its sixth straight game without star centre Ryan Getzlaf, who has a sprained left ankle, and goalie Jonas Hiller, who has back spasms.
NOTES: Ducks D Lubomir Visnovsky had two assists before injuring his hand late in the game. Carlyle didn’t know the injury’s severity, but said he suspected it was “significant.” … Getzlaf says he still intends to try to play on his injured ankle in the Ducks’ final three regular-season games. He played through the injury while helping Canada to a gold medal in the Vancouver Olympics, but has aggravated it several times since. … Los Angeles last overcame a three-goal deficit Feb. 6 against Detroit.