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Sunday, February 21, 2010
Kings and Ducks play crucial role in USA-Canada game


What an incredible game this was. A 5-3 victory by Team USA over Team Canada made all the more entertaining, compelling and intriguing for fans of the Kings and Ducks because so many players from those two teams were involved at key intervals throughout the game.

Take the defensemen for the Anaheim Ducks who are playing  for opposing teams: Scott Niedermayer is the captain of Team Canada; Ryan Whitney is a rearguard for Team USA.

Both had inauspicious starts in this one.

First, Niedemayer lost a battle behind his own net just 41 seconds into the game. Team USA gained possession, the puck ended up back at the point, and Brian Rafalski fired it past Martin Brodeur to make it 1-0 for the U.S. It was Rafalski's third straight goal for his team. He scored the last two goals in the 6-1  romp last Thursday over Norway.

But the Canadians pulled even just before the halfway point of the period when Whitney coughed up the puck deep in his own zone. That allowed the swarming Canadians to keep it alive. Back it went to Duncan Keith at the point, and his shot was tipped beautifully by Eric Staal past Ryan Miller.

Want more Kings and Ducks story lines in this game?

Fast forward to the second period. The score was tied 2-2 and we already saw Bobby Ryan of Team USA and his Ducks teammate, and very near locker neighbor Corey Perry, bashing into each other. We saw a breathtaking rush by the Kings and Team USA's Dustin Brown down the left boards, honing in on his Kings teammate and roomate Drew Doughty. Brown slipped the puck past Doughty, seeming to have a path to the net, but Doughty flung himself on the ice, jabbing at the puck not once, but twice and preventing Brown from making a play.

Then, with just over three minutes left in that second period, Ryan kept the puck alive in Canada's offensive zone with a pass to Rafalski at the point. Ryan then headed for the net, where a scramble ensued and there he was, the guy who started the play with that pass to the point, too off-balance to take a shot. Instead he nudged the puck towards the goal, where Chris Drury finally shot it in to make it 3-2, Team USA.

Later in that period, it was Brown again, crashing the net and getting stoned by Brodeur and then at the end of the period a scuffle ensued after Niedermayer purposely and purposefully glided into Brown as the buzzer sounded to end the period, the captain of Team Canada and the Ducks tried to deliver a little, not so subtle message to the Kings captain and Team USA alternate captain.

Move ahead to the third period. The pace of the game incredible, the crowd roaring in either delight or despair--depending on one's allegiance--as Team USA was awarded with not one, but two consecutive power plays, the first a carry-over from the end of the second.

Brodeur did his job, keeping his team in the game as he kept Team USA off the board.

But just after Team Canada killed off two power plays in the first four minutes of the the third period, Perry was called for not just slashing  Brown's stick, but breaking it in half. Subtlety has never been one of Perry's strong suits.

And that third straight penalty against Team Canada proved to be the deadly charm for Team USA -- another shot by Rafalski, who somehow has morphed into Bobby Orr in this tournament, and it was tipped in by Jamie Langenbrunner. In 750 NHL games, Rafalski has had just two two-goal games. In his last two Olympic games, he had two goals in each, plus that assist on the goal that made it 4-2 for Team USA.

In the waning moments of that heart-pounding third period, Miller made great saves on both Perry and his Ducks teammate Ryan Getzlaf. In the last two minutes of the game, when both coaches only want players out there they trust implicitly -- both from an offensive and defensive standpoint, who was out there? Perry and Getzlaf for the Ducks, of course. But also lurking on the blue lines of each team were two kids from the Kings -- Doughty for Team Canada, firing pucks from the point, and Jack Johnson, his frequent partner when the Kings are in these situations, frantically trying to keep the puck away from his net in crunch time.

Then Sidney Crosby scored to cut the USA lead to 4-3 and you start to think about that score, the same score that was the final when another Olympic team from the United States scored an improbable victory over another favored opponent exactly 30 years tomorrow. Would that score stand up?

It was in doubt until the final seconds, soon after a final Doughty blast from the point was blocked and Brodeur had been pulled. There was a race for the puck between an American and a Canadian player as it slipped into the Canadian zone, and it looked like that Canadian player, Corey Perry, had the angle on the American, Ryan Kessler, who plays for the hometown Vancouver Canucks.

But no, Kessler desperately sprawled, flinging his stick at the puck, and it slithered into the net and that made it 5-3. Team USA, the underdogs, the bunch that no one gave a chance to in this event, piled onto each other in jubilation. They are 3-0. The Canadians are 2-1, losers to the U.S. and slim shootout winners over their previous opponent, Switzerland. Their shoulders seemed to be sagging, and it was only because the pride of the entire country that they represent was sagging too.

What a tournament this is. And what a game it was, especially for some guys that all of us here in southern California know so well.

I can't wait for tonight's game between Sweden and Finland.

There's a pretty good chance that some guy named Selanne, first name of Teemu,who plays for that Ducks team and for Finland, may just make some noise.