Bold decision, brave play.
Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau put 20-year-old goalie John Gibson in net for his NHL playoff debut Saturday night, an ultimate test of the elite prospect's poise with his team on the road, trailing the Kings in the Western Conference semifinals.
Gibson's response — a stirring 28-save Game 4 shutout that paced the Ducks to a 2-0 victory to tie the Western Conference semifinals at two games apiece — changed the complexion of a series that moves south to Anaheim for Game 5 on Monday.
"I knew the team had to get a win," said Gibson, who was summoned from minor league Norfolk, Va., on Friday after fellow rookie and Game 3 starter Frederik Andersen suffered a lower-body injury in the third period Thursday night.
Boudreau, who'd watched Gibson go 3-0 for the Ducks in April, said he began mulling a Gibson start as soon as the rookie boarded the plane west.
"There's always nerves," Gibson said. "But you've just got to be in control, and after the first five minutes, I got settled down a bit."
He became the youngest goalie in NHL history to post a shutout in his playoff debut.
En route to the fourth consecutive win by the visiting team in hockey's first freeway series, the Ducks gave Gibson a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Devante Smith-Pelly and Ryan Getzlaf, creating a deafening silence inside sold-out Staples Center as the period ended.
The Ducks scored with 3 minutes 58 seconds left in the first when forward Corey Perry delivered a no-look backhanded pass to rookie Smith-Pelly, who then beat Kings goalie Jonathan Quick to his right side.
A Kings interference penalty gave the Ducks a power play and they converted for the third consecutive time when Getzlaf, on his 29th birthday, pressed a shot that struck off Quick's left arm and went across the goal line with 1:15 remaining.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter countered the deficit with his own jolt, replacing Quick, the 2012 playoff MVP, with rookie Martin Jones in goal at the start of the second period.
"We should have done it sooner," Sutter said. "They were scared to shoot."
The move had pure shock value, since Quick, who won this season's Jennings Trophy awarded to the team allowing the fewest goals in the NHL, was beaten only once at even strength in the first period.
The desired effect came as the Kings clamped down defensively and, for the first time in their playoff history, held a team to no shots on goal in a period. They out-shot the Ducks, 12-0, in the second.
"It's funny how things work," Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler said. "We feel like we played two pretty good games in Anaheim and we come into L.A. down, 0-2. They gave us everything they had tonight."
Gibson faced Kings lines that Sutter had jumbled for the game, notably by putting Justin Williams on the first line in place of captain Dustin Brown and shifting Jeff Carter from center to a wing.
The Kings put massive pressure on Gibson during a second-period sequence, with the rookie stopping a Williams blast, then watching Getzlaf slide in front of a Drew Doughty rebound shot at an open net. Seconds after those denials, Gibson twice stopped Brown.
"We try to fight for our goalies every chance we get," Getzlaf said. "Nice to see the kid play as well as he did."
In the third period, Gibson blocked a shot by Kings center Anze Kopitar, who had scored at least one point in the first 10 playoff games. The rookie goalie then stood up to a point-blank blast by Tyler Toffoli.
"It's the ability to finish it off," Sutter said. "Some of our top guys have to fight through more."
Said Gibson: "Obviously exciting, but we haven't won anything yet and have to get back to work."