LOS ANGELES – Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller knew he had to make a statement early in the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium
In his previous start, four days earlier, Hiller was pulled in the second period after allowing three goals on 11 shots to the Winnipeg Jets. He knew people – his coach, Bruce Boudreau, his teammates, the Los Angeles Kings and the fans that packed the iconic baseball stadium – were wondering how Hiller would respond.
Goalie - ANA
GAA: 2.34 | SVP: 0.915
Hiller had a few questions himself.
“I wasn’t really happy the way I played the last game, and I want to make sure I'm ready tonight and it wasn't too tough with everything [going on],” Hiller said. “There was a big buzz, and I was super-excited to play and get a chance to play in front of such a big crowd.”
In the game’s 10th minute, Hiller made back-to-back saves on the most dangerous player on the Kings' roster, Anze Kopitar, to maintain the two-goal lead his team had fashioned on the strength of goals by Corey Perry and Matt Beleskey. The first came on a partial breakaway by Kopitar that was mitigated in part by the illegal backcheck of Anaheim defenseman Ben Lovejoy.
Kopitar was then awarded a penalty shot and Hiller had to make an even more difficult second save; one he made look exceedingly easy.
“He tried to go backhand and lost the puck a little bit,” Hiller said. “It kind of felt like he wanted to shoot. I was glad that it wasn’t a great shot and I was able to stop it.”
Statement made; a 3-0 victory in the most anticipated game in the history of hockey in California assured.
According to Lovejoy, the penalty-shot save was the turning point of the game. The Ducks, he said, knew at that moment their goaltender had his "A" game and was ready to turn in the type of performance that has helped carry the Ducks to a 19-point lead on the Kings, their closest hockey neighbor and most bitter rival.
Hiller faced 36 shots, stopped them all and was rightly named the game's first star.
“Jonas was, by far, the best player on the ice,” Lovejoy said. “He bailed us out a few times. He bailed me out big-time on that penalty shot. I think I blocked six or seven shots after that and I think I owe him 10 or 12 more. He truly was the best player on the ice tonight and he was so fun to play in front of. He was the difference-maker.”
Captain Ryan Getzlaf was even more succinct.
“Our goaltending tonight, obviously, was unbelievable,” he said. “He kept us in the game.”
Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said he knew right away that Hiller would be good. He watched the warmups and saw how aggressive Hiller was in attacking the puck, how fluid he was with his glove. Those are usually telltale signs about the game to come.
After two periods, Hiller had made 26 saves, 20 of them made in the first 20 minutes; the time frame in which L.A. traditionally likes to exert its dominance.
By then, Boudreau was pretty sure that nothing was going to get past his goalie, that the 2-0 lead was safe.
“I think halfway through the third [period], I said it doesn't matter,” Boudreau said. “They're not going to beat him. Like I've said that on the other side so many times that we're just not going to beat this guy tonight, and I just had the feeling that no matter how many good looks they had in the last ten minutes, they weren't going to. It was his karma, like he was on.”
Hiller was on, and nothing was going to get past him on this night. He was able to skate off the ice after joining his teammates to salute the boisterous sold-out crowd at Dodger Stadium with the statement when he craved -- as well as a lifetime of memories.
“ I mean, it's probably the whole thing,” Hiller said when asked of his favorite memory. “It started [Friday] night with having to practice and being able to see the whole facility and being more focused on the game. So you kind of like get this feel for like all those memories, it's tough to pick something out. It's definitely way easier and way better to think back if you know you played well, your team played well, and you got away with a win.”