The anointed difference maker between the Ducks who lost to the eventual-champion Kings in the playoffs last season and this year's version is Anaheim center Ryan Kesler.
As the postseason awaits in less than a month, Kesler reminded the Kings again of his presence with a goal 45 seconds into overtime that gave Anaheim a 3-2 victory at Honda Center.
Left nearly alone to the left of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, Kesler fired a shot to the goalie's right for his 200th career goal.
“I don't know who the ‘D' was, but they did a good job of going down and bringing [Marian] Gaborik down, and I think that messed up their coverage,” Kesler said.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said he saw Kesler make “a great play down low on [Kings defenseman] Drew [Doughty], come all the way around and shot the puck. Quickie didn't see it.”
The first-place Ducks (45-20-7) finished their regular-season series with a 4-0-1 record against the Kings (34-22-14), who cling to playoff position by the point they earned by forcing the game past regulation.
Said Doughty: “I don't find it as a deflating thing. Yeah, we should have won the game because we had a one-goal lead going into the third.
“It was a good game, pretty rough. The fans were pretty into it. I think if we continue going and get into a playoff spot, we may see them in the playoffs.”
That would mean more Kesler. In the five games against the Kings, he has five goals and seven points.
Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau praised the former Selke Trophy winner with the Vancouver Canucks, acquired in the summer, whose grit and smarts have solidified the Ducks.
“He's a smart player. He has an assignment every night against these guys,” Boudreau said. “He takes it to heart, does a great job. It was really nice to see him score that overtime goal because I thought he deserved it. He was in the right position all the time.”
The game fulfilled the expected seriousness given the Kings' desperation and the Ducks' push to earn a second consecutive Western Conference No. 1 seeding as the teams engaged in a physical battle that entertained the sellout crowd.
“We had enough energy to get a point,” Sutter said. “They looked fresher and were able to use four lines more than we were able to.”
Boudreau returned the praise: “It's always a test playing them, whether it's a preseason or playoff game. They play with great structure and effort.”
The Kings, in their 70th game, forced overtime when “Mr. Game 7,” Justin Williams, beat Ducks goalie John Gibson to his left with 4 minutes, 14 seconds remaining in regulation.
A regulation loss would've dropped the Kings back out of playoff position.
Quick kept the hosts scoreless until early in the third period.
Ducks forward Patrick Maroon scored the tying goal 45 seconds into the third. A pass by center Ryan Getzlaf — his NHL-leading 29th primary assist — found Maroon, who beat the sprawled Quick and notched his first goal since Feb. 18.
A Ducks rush, with Anaheim center Nate Thompson pressuring Quick, led to Jakob Silfverberg scoring the go-ahead goal 7:35 into the third.
Anaheim has now won a league-best 12 times when trailing at the start of the third period.
The Kings fell to 3-14 in overtime/shootout games.
“Our … record is terrible,” Williams said. “Either way, that's not going to deter us from making the playoffs. We got a point. We'll keep pushing forward and try to improve in areas like four-on-four, and get two points next time.”