LOS ANGELES – For Anaheim, it was a game they needed.
For the Kings, they faltered for the first time this series, and for the first time since Game 3 against San Jose, falling 3-2 to the Ducks Thursday night at STAPLES Center, coming up short after a late goal pulled them within striking range in the game’s final seconds.
Too little, too late.
Anaheim held on, and we have ourselves a series.
“The Ducks played harder than us tonight, they executed better,” Mike Richards told reporters following the game. “They were a desperate team and they showed up. We know what it’s like to be in that position, and if the other team is more desperate than we are, they are probably going to have more success.”
Corey Perry, who the Kings held off the score sheet through the first two games of this series, buried the opening goal Monday night, giving the Ducks an early 1-0 lead 4:06 into the game on Anaheim’s first power play of the evening.
Anaheim would carry that lead into the second period, where Jeff Carter would send a return message, slamming home the equalizer in the opening minutes of the second frame.
Carter’s tally came on the Kings’ first power play of the evening, and it took the Kings’ man-advantage unit just :16 seconds to set up and execute.
Controlling the puck low on the left side of Anaheim’s zone, Anze Kopitar fed Marian Gaborik, who was positioned low behind the goal-line to the left of the Ducks’ net. Gaborik, aware of his surroundings, quickly fed Jeff Carter, who was open in the slot, and Carter one-timed a shot past Frederik Andersen low and to the left corner to tie the game 1-1 with 15:01 to play in the second period.
With 4:50 to play in the second, the Ducks’ fired home their second power play goal of the evening, jumping back on top, taking a 2-1 lead.
Teemu Selanne, scoring his second goal of the series, drove hard to the net and redirected Nick Bonino’s pass past Jonathan Quick on a Ducks’ 3-on-1 rush, caused after two Kings players collided in the neutral zone, handing Anaheim ample time and space to pot their second goal.
Down 2-1 heading into the third, the Kings developed their best offensive zone pressure of the night, but couldn’t create any solid opportunities to knot the score.
With just over 10 minutes left in regulation time, Anaheim’s starting goalie Frederik Andersen promptly left the game with an undisclosed lower body injury.
Andersen stopped 22 of the 23 shots the Kings directed his way.
Jonas Hiller, who started the first two games of the series for Anaheim, turned away a handful of chances the Kings poured on shortly after he entered the game, as they were looking to pounce on the cold goaltender.
With under three minutes remaining, Anaheim’s Ben Lovejoy pick-pocketed Drew Doughty, then transitioned back on a two-on-one rush, eventually beating Jonathan Quick with a snap shot high to the top right corner.
Lovejoy’s tally gave the Ducks a 3-1 lead with 2:55 to play.
The Kings entered desperation mode, and pulled Jonathan Quick for the extra attacker with just under two minutes to play.
With under a minute to play, Tanner Pearson entered Anaheim’s zone, drove the puck wide to the left, and fired a shot into traffic in front of the Ducks’ net.
After a whacky carom, Mike Richards swatted the puck, which was about six inches off the ice surface, past Jonas Hiller, cutting the score to 3-2 with :30.8 seconds left to play.
It was Richards’ second point of the series, his first goal of the playoffs, and his first goal since March 25, when he scored against the Capitals in Washington.
That was all the Kings could muster with the little time they had to work with; they were unable to create another opportunity after Richards’ tally.
The last Kings player to record a point in 10 straight playoffs games during a single season was Wayne Gretzky during the 1993 postseason, when he rallied off points in 12 straight games, totaling for 25 points (9G, 16A) during that streak.
The Kings now lead the series 2-1, and will return to STAPLES Center Saturday night for Game 4, which is scheduled for a 6:30 PM PST start.