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John Gibson proving capable of No. 1 job for Ducks

Maturing goaltender earns second shutout in past three starts with win against rival Kings

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

ANAHEIM -- Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter was the king of sarcasm during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The subject was Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson.

"He's the best goalie I've ever seen," Sutter said then. "I can't believe we got one by him tonight."

The Kings rallied in that Western Conference Second Round series against the Ducks on their way to winning the Stanley Cup. They've won one playoff game since then.

Less than three years later, Gibson has managed to give the Kings plenty of grief again.

Gibson has five shutouts this season, two of them against the Kings, including Anaheim's 1-0 win at Honda Center on Sunday. He made 24 saves and has shutouts in two of his past three starts, highlighted by a 1-0 victory against the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild last Tuesday.

"He's been our best player for the last month here," Ducks center Ryan Kesler said.

This is what the Ducks were expecting. It was an educated gamble they made in handing over the No. 1 job to Gibson this season by way of trading Frederik Andersen to the Toronto Maple Leafs for two draft picks on June 20, 2016.

They are approaching the home stretch, having played 60 games, and Gibson has pretty much handled the significant challenge of being the guy.

It doesn't always happen so smoothly. There are no guarantees, of course. 

Video: LAK@ANA: Gibson gloves away Kopitar's redirection

For example, Jake Allen had that opportunity with the St. Louis Blues and struggled earlier with the accompanying pressure of taking over the reins after the Blues traded Brian Elliott to the Calgary Flames on June 25, 2016.

In Anaheim, general manager Bob Murray said Gibson, 23, has matured.

"He's talented and he used to take it all for granted," Murray said. "No matter how good you are, you've got to work at it. He had to work on some things. He now knows when to work and when not to work. For all these No. 1 goalies, it's not every day; it's when you work, you work.

"He's got talent and he's a competitor."

Murray addressed the important presence of backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who was acquired from the Maple Leafs for a 2017 conditional draft pick on July 8, 2016. The Ducks projected Bernier would play between 20-25 games because Gibson was not quite ready for a heavy workload. Bernier has played 21 games this season.

"We needed a veteran with him," Murray said. "I think [Bernier] has been real good for him. John's grown up. I see it in his practice habits. That's the most telling thing for me."

The Ducks are finding they don't need to handle Gibson with kid gloves as they move into the final quarter of the regular season. He was recognizing the next phase and Sunday was a sneak preview.

"At this time of the season, that's the way it's going to be," Gibson said. "I mean, going into the playoffs and towards the end of the year, every game's going to be tight. There's not much room for error, so you've got to be pretty good."

Video: LAK@ANA: Gibson stops Clifford from the high slot

The gap between the Kings and Ducks has widened, but the Kings have plenty of other concerns besides Anaheim.

Said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle, "What it does is it puts a 12-point spread between us and them. No matter what happens, 12 points is a lot to make up."

The Kings are 0-3-0 since a six-day break and two points out of the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference, trying to hang on with goaltender Peter Budaj until injured No. 1 goaltender Jonathan Quick returns.

Quick may not be back for a couple more weeks. Until then, the Kings will try to stay afloat in the wild-card mix with the Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames, and more recently, the Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks.

"These are important points for us, and we can't let these points slip away," Budaj said. "We have to find a way to win. It doesn't matter if it's 1-0 or 10-0. It's a loss."

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