ANAHEIM, Calif. – When John Gibson flew across the continent from Newfoundland a few days ago, he knew there was a good chance he would make his NHL post-season debut shortly after he finally landed in Southern California.
The Anaheim Ducks’ 20-year-old goalie didn’t exactly fidget in his seat or claw at the armrest, though.
“I got some sleep,” Gibson said.
Gibson is not the type of guy who is easily disturbed, and he woke up the NHL when he arrived in the Stanley Cup playoffs, shutting out the Los Angeles Kings on the road Saturday to even the series.
The prodigy from Pittsburgh will get another chance in Game 5 on Monday night when the Ducks see how far they can go with a goalie who yawns at his youth and inexperience.
Coach Bruce Boudreau said Gibson will make the fifth start of his entire NHL career in a game to decide which team moves to the brink of the Western Conference finals.
Gibson would be under a mountain of pressure—if he actually noticed that sort of thing.
“It’s not a difficult decision (in Game 5),” Boudreau said. “He came in. He played great. … We knew L.A. hadn’t seen him, so they probably wouldn’t have a good scouting report on him.”
Gibson was imperturbable while winning the first showdown of his career with Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick, who got pulled by Kings coach Darryl Sutter after allowing two first-period goals in Game 4. Gibson claims he was having fun, but his teammates and coaches certainly couldn’t tell.
“I saw that on a nightly basis all year, so that doesn’t surprise me,” said Ducks forward Devante Smith-Pelly, who scored in Game 4 after spending most of the season with Gibson and the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals.
“Knowing his personality, I knew he would be all right. He just goes out and plays his game. Never gets rattled. He just comes in and does his routine. He’s so relaxed, like it’s a preseason game for him.”
The Ducks kept Gibson in the minors this year to keep him active instead of sitting behind Jonas Hiller or Frederik Andersen, but he made his NHL debut with a shutout in Vancouver last month. He still hasn’t lost for the Ducks, going 4-0 while stopping 111 of 115 shots.
No NHL goalie had recorded a shutout in his first playoff game since Hiller, who did it in 2009.
Yet his new Anaheim fans and his older teammates still don’t know much about Gibson—including 43-year-old Teemu Selanne, who had just finished his record-setting rookie season in Winnipeg when Gibson was born in 1993.
A quick primer on the goalie who rocketed to prominence by winning a bronze medal with the U.S. national team at last year’s world championships:
Gibson got into hockey when his father took him to Penguins games, and he gravitated to goalie after a few games as a defenceman.
Curtis Joseph and Ryan Miller were his favourite netminders growing up, but more because of Joseph’s cool masks and Miller’s American citizenship than their playing styles.
Gibson didn’t even design his own loud mask, instead allowing famed mask artist David Gunnarsson to pick basically whatever he wanted as long as a shoutout to Pittsburgh was on the back.
Gibson’s aggressiveness and ability to cut down shooting angles remind many players of Quick. Others see Montreal’s Carey Price in Gibson’s size, precociousness and ability to make tough saves look routine.
“I think he’s got a nice sense of confidence about himself for a young goalie that hasn’t accomplished much,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said. “He carries himself real well. You see that a lot from Quick, so that’s a good comparison.”
While the Ducks enjoyed their success Sunday, the Kings regrouped after their six-game post-season winning streak ended with back-to-back home losses. Los Angeles has little doubt it can recover during its third straight impressive post-season run.
Despite a strong start against their local rivals, the Kings have scored just three goals in the past eight periods of the series: One into an empty net, another on a power play, and a third with Quick pulled for an extra attacker.
“They have a lot of goalies,” Kings forward Marian Gaborik said. “They’ve been rotating them. Whoever is in net, we just have to try to get to them, create traffic and get more pucks to the net. Just challenge him more. Whoever is in there, we just have to find a way to score.”