Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, missed opportunities or just another dramatic turn, but the Ducks couldn't finish off the Kings on Wednesday night, and hockey's freeway series is now going the distance.
Riding a signature 21-save performance by goalie Jonathan Quick and goals by Jake Muzzin and Trevor Lewis, the Kings forced Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinal series by beating the Ducks, 2-1, at Staples Center.
"Big game for both organizations," Kings forward Dustin Brown said after the win that sets up the finale at Honda Center on Friday at 6 p.m.
The Western Conference finals against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks will begin Sunday at noon Pacific time, either in Anaheim if the Ducks win, or in Chicago, if the Kings survive again.
"We'll get better, and have us a hell of a game," Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said after the Kings held his team to only six shots at Quick on five failed power plays.
After overcoming a 3-0 series deficit with four straight wins to defeat the San Jose Sharks in Game 7 on April 30, the Kings are now 5-0 in elimination games by producing the complete, sound effort that the Ducks kept saying was coming after three straight Anaheim wins.
Ducks forward Kyle Palmieri said it's time to halt the Kings' undying ways with the home-ice advantage Anaheim gained by producing the Western Conference's best record.
Minutes after the final horn, Ducks' retiring forward Teemu Selanne, 43, was spotted pedaling an exercise bike with hopes of staving off the end of his decorated career.
"We had a lot of chances, but they've been in this situation before," Palmieri said of the Kings after scoring the Ducks' lone goal on a second-period wraparound. Crediting the Kings "stopped lingering about five minutes ago. Hope to get off to a good start [Friday] and play a full, 60-minute effort."
The beginning is indeed important. The team that has scored first has won each game of the series.
"That's all we're thinking about, that seventh game, and we're going to be the team that wins that game by coming out hard and ready to play and being the most competitive team out there," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said.
"We got in this situation for a reason. We didn't play good enough in the middle of the series, and now we're back to playing the way we want to. We're fully confident and ready to go."
The Kings' early energy edge decided the first 20 minutes Wednesday, and they led 1-0 on a goal by Muzzin 8:16 into the game. Muzzin rebounded a shot by Anze Kopitar that bounced off Ducks rookie goalie John Gibson.
That left the Kings — who gave up the fewest goals in the NHL this season — to hunker down.
During one second-period sequence, Palmieri had a shot blocked, center Nick Bonino was bounced around trying to infiltrate the gap between faceoff circles and Kings defenseman Jeff Schultz intercepted a puck dished by the Ducks' best passer, center Ryan Getzlaf.
Then, with 5:56 left in the second, the Kings extended their lead to 2-0 lead when Lewis slapped a shot that trickled under Gibson, the most stoppable goal the 20-year-old has yet surrendered.
"It was just one shot," said Gibson, who suffered his first playoff defeat. "Missed it. It happens."
The Ducks, who led the league in comeback wins, nearly scored just before Palmieri's wraparound with 4:18 remaining in the second, but center Saku Koivu's shot wobbled off the post and Kings defenseman Matt Greene knocked the puck from the crease.
In the game's final seven minutes, Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler blasted a power-play shot through a sea of bodies that Quick gloved.
"A grade-A chance, unbelievable save," Fowler said. "I felt there was no way he could see that puck, I put it where I wanted to and he made the save. I tip my cap to him, and will try to solve him next time."
With Gibson out of net for the game's final 85 seconds, Quick sprawled to stop all threats, his team celebrating as Ducks goals leader Corey Perry whiffed on an attempted final shot.
"They wanted to win tonight," Boudreau said of his Ducks. "You never want to have it go to the seventh."
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