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Kings hero Gaborik has found a home in Los Angeles

by Corey Masisak

ANAHEIM -- The Los Angeles Kings were able to land Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets before the NHL Trade Deadline, while the Anaheim Ducks reportedly attempted to acquire Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler but were unsuccessful.

Each team was looking for another impact forward to add to a Stanley Cup-contending roster. Though Gaborik had struggled with injuries and inconsistency, he's been a boon for the Kings and never more so than when he scored the game-tying goal with seven seconds remaining in regulation and the winner 12:07 into overtime Saturday night in a 3-2 victory against the Ducks at Honda Center in Game 1 of this Western Conference Second Round series.

Gaborik has settled in on the top line for Los Angeles, and he now has five goals in eight postseason games for the Kings.

"When you play him and [Anze Kopitar] together, they're like this dynamic duo," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "When they're both on their games, it's hard to stop them. [Gaborik] was a huge part to our win tonight, three points, two huge goals. When those two are on their game and when all of lines are on their game, we're a tough team to play against. That's what we need."

Gaborik set up the opening goal of the game with a crafty pass to defenseman Alec Martinez on the power play in the first period. He swatted the puck past Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller in the dying seconds of regulation in a goal-mouth scramble.

After the puck came off the boards along the left wing in the Ducks zone, Gaborik took a direct path to the net and Kopitar led him with a perfect pass to redirect off the post and in to help the Kings win for a fifth straight game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and take a 1-0 lead in this series despite Anaheim having the better of the quality chances for much of the game.

"Both those goals were classic goals, you have to go to the net to score in the playoffs," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "In overtime, [Kopitar] makes a great play to someone going to the net. Not many guys can score those goals, but you have to go to the net for sure."

This has not been an easy season for Gaborik. While playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets, he was sidelined in mid-November with a knee injury. In his first game back on Dec. 21, he sustained a broken collarbone and did not play again until after the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. One of the top players from his native Slovakia, he was left off his country's roster in part because of the injury.

Once considered one of the very best goal scorers in the sport, Gaborik had 11 in 41 games this season, including five in 19 games for the Kings after the trade. He had 12 in 2012-13.

He's been traded twice by teams expecting to contend for playoff berths since scoring 41 goals in 2011-12, but Gaborik might have found a place that suits him well in Los Angeles.

"I'm glad to be here of course," Gaborik said. "This team with the system we have is working for us so far. It has been the same since they won the Cup. This team has been a contender for the past few years and I'm just trying to be part of it. You have to keep playing."

While the Blue Jackets' season ended with a first-round loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Gaborik had three goals and five points in seven games to help the Kings rally past the San Jose Sharks in a Western Conference First Round series.

"He played really good the first round," Sutter said. "He scored three goals. He had a lot of good opportunities in the first round. Quite honest, he was a big reason we won the first round."

The Ducks were the fresher team for Game 1, having needed six games to defeat the Dallas Stars to earn five days of rest before the game Saturday. They also caught a break when veteran defenseman Robyn Regher was knocked out of the game midway through the first period with an undisclosed injury.

Even though Gaborik pushed this game to overtime, the Ducks were playing a team with less rest and five defensemen available. Anaheim had more chances to score in the extra session, but one of the stars on this night for Los Angeles, Martinez, made maybe the biggest save of his career with goaltender Jonathan Quick out of position on a shot from Ducks star Corey Perry.

That was a continuation from regulation, when the Ducks were able to hang with the Kings in puck possession, an area that was expected to be a decisive advantage for Los Angeles, and also generate better chances.

This one slipped away from the Ducks because of a bad bounce here or there, and Kings pounced when they had the chance. It wasn't all that dissimilar to what transpired on deadline day, when Los Angeles landed its target moments before the market closed while Anaheim couldn't pull the trigger.

"I think this is what all the games are going to be like," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We had opportunities to win the game, we didn't covert, they converted when they had to.

"If you don't look at the result of the game, and you look at the 54 hits and a lot of zone time, you're going to feel good about it. We did a lot of good things, but we ended up with the loss, so it doesn't really matter. We've got to do better."


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