Game 81; 48-28-5
LOS ANGELES — There was plenty at stake heading into this one and for the Los Angeles Kings, they hosted an Anaheim Ducks squad who they had lost to three times already this season. So, while the Ducks had won the season series, the teams entered this matchup tied for first in the Pacific Division. But unlike in previous meetings, this one was a tight defensive battle; an epic tilt, if you will, between the SoCal rivals.
With 3:49 remaining in the opening period, the Ducks got things started when they took advantage of a Jake Muzzin turnover. It was here when Jakob Silfverberg took the puck Muzzin behind the Los Angeles net, then made a pretty move before feeding a wide-open Ryan Kesler who one-timed his 21st past Jonathan Quick. But while the Ducks had the momentum, the Kings wasted no time getting it back.
Just 28 seconds into the middle frame, Milan Lucic took a backhanded pass from Tanner Pearson in front to backhand his 20th past John Gibson to tie it. Anze Kopitar picked up his 48th assist of the year on the goal.
The silver-and-black used the second period to break out for 15 shots and while they weren’t able to make any significant statements, they were able to capitalize when it counted early. Just 93 seconds after Lucic tied the game, in fact, Kris Versteeg jumped on a Brayden McNabb point shot where he quickly tucked his 15th past Gibson to give the Kings their first lead of the night. But thanks to their stingy defense and clutch goaltending by Jonathan Quick, the Kings did not relinquish their lead.
While the defense was stingy, none were better in the silver-and-black on this night then Norris favourite Drew Doughty.
In addition to a team-high five shots, Doughty used Thursday night to prove why he should not only be nominated for but win this year’s Norris Trophy. Doughty was all over the ice on Thursday, making a plethora of key defensive plays to not only keep the Kings ahead but frustrating the pesky opposition. And when Doughty wasn’t there, Jonathan Quick was as he turned away 19 Anaheim shots to earn a career-high 40th victory. If it weren’t for Doughty’s efforts — who was justifiably named the game’s First Star — Thursday’s end result may have looked very different.
Nonetheless, the Kings took this one by a 2-1 count, eclipsing the 100-point mark and, more importantly, taking a two-point lead on the rival Ducks thanks to the regulation win. Now, all the Kings need is a regulation point in their season finale on Saturday and they have their first division title in 25 years.
Overall, a great game by both sides but on this night, it was the Kings who were just that much hungrier.