LOS ANGELES – The Ducks clinched the all-important best record in the Western Conference once they went to OT with the Kings in LA, and downing their rivals in the shootout was icing on the cake.
After seven shooters were all stymied in the shootout, Ducks winger Devante Smith-Pelly buried the game winner in the bottom of the fourth round to give the Ducks a satisfying 4-3 victory over Los Angeles at Staples Center. It was the capper of a great night for Smith-Pelly, who scored a big goal for Anaheim in the second period.
"They all knew they just needed a point," said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. "We never talked about it, but you could tell after the game was over, they all knew. Some of them were high-fiving each other. That’s a pretty big accomplishment for them. Then, we said, 'Let’s go win it in a shootout.'"
It was the fourth win in five meetings with the Kings this season, including four in a row after losing in a shootout in their first matchup. "You never want a team to think they can beat you, and this year we’ve been able to handle them," said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf. "We’ve had years in the past where it was tough to beat them. It’s good to have that last win against them going into the playoffs, in case we have to face them."
The Ducks had reason to celebrate once this game went to OT, however, as the standings point they earned gave them the best record in the Western Conference and a No. 1 seed in the playoffs, where they will open against Dallas. It’s the first time in the 20-year history of the franchise they have earned the top spot in the West.
"Anytime you have an opportunity to close someone out and solidify your spot, that’s what you want to do," Getzlaf said. "Our team showed that tonight, that we were able to go out and grasp that opportunity. That’s good visual and mental help for us."
The Ducks took a 3-2 lead with 4:47 left in the third on a beautiful play by Matt Beleskey, who headed down right wing on the rush and faked a pass before unleashing a wicked wrister over the glove of a fooled Jonathan Quick.
But the Kings came right back a minute and a half later when Anze Kopitar slid into the slot and slung a shot past Anaheim goalie Frederik Andersen to make it 3-3. That was the last of the scoring in regulation and five minutes of overtime, though both teams had chances to end it in OT with both goalies standing tall to extend the game. They would each do the same in the shootout (the rookie Andersen's first as an NHLer) until Smith-Pelly, a surprising fourth choice for coach Bruce Boudreau, converted his attempt.
Andersen, who hadn't played since taking a slap shot off the mask eight days ago against Nashville, had 27 saves in his return. "He’s always bounced back," Boudreau said. "He just bears down when he needs to be, and the shootout was an example. He did a great job. After having the time off that he did, it was important that he come in and play a real good game."
LA had earlier tied it up 2-2 just 48 seconds into the third when Kopitar pounced on a puck behind the Anaheim net and stuffed in a wraparound.
The Kings got on the board first in this one, at 4:43 of the first period, as Ducks rookie Hampus Lindholm was caught out of position during a battle for the puck, allowing Dustin Brown room for a breakaway. Brown buried a wrist shot for his 15th of the season.
The Ducks evened it up a minute and a half later on one of their most incredible goals of the season, as Nick Bonino fell to his knees just right of the Kings net and still managed to backhand the puck past Quick.
Anaheim made it 2-1 a couple minutes into the second period, as Lindholm’s shot from the left wing circle was redirected off the skate of Smith-Pelly for his second goal of the year. But it was hardly his biggest, as he slammed the door on the shootout (on his first career NHL attempt) with a shoulder fake and a nifty forehand that beat Quick on the glove side.
The Ducks will close out the regular season tomorrow night vs. Colorado at home, a game that now has no bearing on their postseason positioning. It will, however, be Teemu Selanne’s last regular season game, and it promises to be an emotional night at Honda Center.