Rickard Rakell delivered a gem. Anze Kopitar delivered a dagger.
Not much, if anything outside of draft-lottery positioning, was on the line when the Ducks met the Kings for the third time this season, but a 4-3 shootout win by the Kings seemed to have an extra sting attached to it Saturday, given how it went down.
Kopitar finally ended a night of both misplays and pretty plays by both lowly local teams with the only goal in a shootout, a leave-behind move that beat goalie Ryan Miller in the second round at Staples Center.
Kopitar said he planned the move beforehand.
“It’s probably, really, the best time now to try [it] and see what’s up,” Kopitar said.
Kopitar had a smirk that conveyed the Kings won and that the season moved one step closer to ending. The Kings could allow themselves a celebration, even though little mattered except pride between the teams. The Kings roared back from a 3-2 deficit and didn’t let Rakell’s potentially devastating last-second goal hurt them.
“For us to come out and compete, that’s what we want to do,” Kopitar said. “I’ve said it before, there’s guys playing for jobs, guys that want to prove themselves as good players in this league. So there’s a lot at stake. It’s not just any other game.”
Rakell negated almost all of 20 minutes’ worth of awful hockey by the Ducks with a highlight goal in the second period that might have counted as the prettiest Ducks goal this season. Rakell chipped the puck out of mid-air and batted it into the net with 0.9 second remaining in the second period, with the Kings’ Austin Wagner serving a roughing penalty.
Rakell’s teammate Carter Rowney then inexplicably put the Ducks in position for a regulation win with a short-handed goal with less than 11 minutes left in the third period when he beat goalie Jonathan Quick following an incredibly poor sequence by the Kings as they tried to retrieve the puck back on a power play and missed two passes.
Then it was the Kings’ turn to catch the Ducks napping when Carl Grundstrom tapped in Tyler Toffoli’s try on rush after Cam Fowler got caught pinching on the play, with 3 minutes 53 seconds left in regulation to tie it 3-3.
There was good reason for the disjointed play on both sides.
The teams played seven players who made their NHL debut this season. The Ducks before the game announced a recall of rookies Sam Steel and Kiefer Sherwood because Ryan Getzlaf and Nick Ritchie sat out with upper-body injuries and are day-to-day.
Steel played in Getzlaf’s place at top-line center and collected an assist on the Ducks’ first goal. But the ensuing second period won’t go on the Ducks’ highlight reel. They did not put a shot on goal until the 11:11 mark of the period, and that was on a mid-ice floater by Andy Welinski.
Miller was the only player keeping the Ducks in the game, and he finally succumbed on Jeff Carter’s shot from a steep angle following a Ducks turnover in the neutral zone.
That gave Carter two goals in two games after he endured a career-worst 20-game scoring slump.
Kyle Clifford recorded the first power-play goal of his career when he impressively deflected in Alec Martinez’s long-range shot in the first period.
“Nine years later,” Clifford said.
Jonny Brodzinski returned to the lineup for the Kings while Ilya Kovalchuk and Dion Phaneuf were scratched.
Coach Willie Desjardins used 11 forwards and seven defensemen for the fourth time, thus Clifford on the power play.