The Anaheim Ducks have done so twice in the Stanley Cup Playoffs because of the play of young wings Devante Smith-Pelly and Emerson Etem. The two were on the fourth line with center Nick Bonino in Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round series against the Los Angeles Kings, and coach Bruce Boudreau had them together the morning of Game 2 on Monday night at Honda Center (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
"I thought they played real good [in Game 1]," Boudreau said. "I thought it was Emerson's best game of the three that he's played. [Smith-Pelly's] played well since he got here, both physically and offensively, and now killing penalties. I think he's engaged with the team, and he's playing like he was when he was an 18-year-old and made the team."
Smith-Pelly, 21, was forgotten after he was reassigned to the American Hockey League in November. He was recalled in April and reminded the Ducks of his wrecking-ball capabilities. At 6-feet, 222 pounds, Smith-Pelly is built like a fire hydrant and can occasionally put the puck in the net.
Smith-Pelly said he's found consistency after an admitted up-and-down season last year. He understands how difficult it is to crack Anaheim's lineup.
"[Last season] I didn't play the way I could or should, and this year I tried not to worry too much about points or going up and down," Smith-Pelly said. "Just try and get better every day. So far, the year has gone pretty well and hopefully it can continue longer.
"This is what you dream about, is playing in the playoffs. Getting a chance is exciting for me, and I'm just trying to make good on the opportunity."
Etem, 21, was also lost in the shuffle of young forwards in the organization until he was inserted for two games of the first-round series against the Dallas Stars. The local kid from Long Beach also gives the Ducks a potent penalty killer because of his speed on the wing. The 6-1, 210-pound Etem brings experience, having scored three goals with two assists in last season's conference quarterfinals loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
Smith-Pelly had two goals in the first-round series against the Stars. Etem is looking for his first playoff goal this season, and Boudreau said he sees Etem getting back to his level in terms of skating and generating chances.
"He's scored 60 goals in juniors and he scored seven for us in 29 games this year," Boudreau said. "He'll be able to score as soon as his confidence gets up a little bit, and hopefully after the last game, it's where it should be."
Boudreau was asked again Monday morning why he is opting for Smith-Pelly and Etem over Winnik and Palmieri. It does seem slightly puzzling, but not when Boudreau sees what he's getting from the former. Boudreau is notorious for tinkering with his lineup, but Smith-Pelly and Etem are making the decision easier for him.
"They're not playing just because they got called up," Boudreau said. "They're playing because for this need … I think Palmieri and Winnik and [Rickard] Rakell, for that matter, would not hurt our team one iota, if they were in there. They were regulars, at least the two of them, for the whole year. Just right now, with this series, I think, the bigger-bodied guys, and the more physical guys, are what we need."