|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2014||[Print without images]|
LOS ANGELES -- Andrew Cogliano glanced over during pregame at the 20-year-old goalie about to start in their biggest game yet of the season, and the Anaheim Ducks forward was amazed.
John Gibson had the look of a kid who could have just as well been anywhere else in the world but at Staples Center before his first-ever NHL playoff game.
"I've never seen a goalie like him, really," Cogliano said. "He's really calm. Before the game, it looked like he was getting ready for a preseason game.
"You get a little scared when you're looking at him preparing," Cogliano said, chuckling. "And then he goes out and plays like that."
And then he goes out at 20 years, 330 days old and becomes the youngest goalie in NHL history to record a shutout in his playoff debut and the youngest to win a playoff game since Montreal Canadiens star Carey Price did back in 2008, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
It can't be just coincidence that Gibson and Price are linked by that piece of trivia. Like Price yawning during an Olympic gold-medal game, Gibson projects that same zero-pulse demeanor.
Honestly, the kid was so zen-like in his postgame news conference Saturday night, it might as well have been a November victory.
"When I found out I was going to play, I was just excited," Gibson said. "I knew the team had to get a win tonight."
Gibson seemingly had ice running through his veins as he stopped Marian Gaborik on a dangerous 2-on-1 chance in the first period, made a terrific pad save on a Tanner Pearson chance in the middle period when the Ducks were outshot and stoned Tyler Toffoli with his best save of the night, in-close on a one-timer from the slot in the third period.
Ho-hum, 28 saves on 28 shots, named the first star of the game, a huge 2-0 Game 4 victory for the Ducks that tied the Battle of Socal 2-2.
"He played great. He's calm back there," said Ducks star Corey Perry, who tallied two assists on the night. "He came in and he's all business.
"He's a guy that's just steady back there. He makes the first save and smothers rebounds. He's played in big games. It goes back to world championships, world juniors, all those things."
Bruce Boudreau deserves massive credit here. If Gibson gets lit up, the Ducks head coach would have opened himself to a world of scrutiny for starting a goalie with exactly three games of NHL experience -- none of them in the playoffs -- over an experienced Jonas Hiller, who wasn't all that bad in Games 1 and 2.
Boudreau said he began to think about starting Gibson when Gibson was recalled Friday from AHL Norfolk. But I've got news for you: Boudreau began thinking about starting Gibson as he was walking out of Staples Center after Game 3 Thursday night, after having lost Frederik Andersen to injury.
Remember, Gibson played what was the biggest game in the regular season April 9 against the San Jose Sharks, stopping 36 of 38 shots as the Ducks won to clinch the Pacific Division. The seed was planted right then and there. Heck, Boudreau even debated about whether to start Gibson in the first game of the playoffs before deciding to go with fellow rookie Andersen.
So when Andersen went down Thursday night, the thought process quickly went toward Gibson, who had been outstanding in the AHL playoffs to date.
"I got great feedback from everybody in our organization, and they all agreed, so we started him," Boudreau said.
It's clear, too, that Gibson has already won over the players in this Ducks dressing room.
"I haven't scored a goal yet on him in practice," Cogliano said. "Not that I have an unbelievable shot. But he's a different goalie; he plays a lot like [Jonathan] Quick. He takes angles away, and he's very confident. He's got a little swagger to him. Yeah, he's going to be good."
Swagger, confidence, the body language Saturday night emanated all of it.
"He doesn't seem to get rattled," Boudreau said. "He didn't in the three games we had him up earlier, and he didn't today."
So, to sum up, the Ducks have started three goalies in four games this series and are somehow tied 2-2 with the 2012 Stanley Cup champs. The players got the news Saturday morning that the kid was in.
"I'm not surprised at anything anymore, trust me," said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, who scored the second goal of the game. "Everything's relative to the situation, and I think they were just trying to get a spark, obviously. We got two quick [goals] on them."
The Ducks rode two first-period goals, hung on and held off the shot clock in the second period (a first in Ducks franchise history for a playoff game) as the Kings tried to rally.
|Rookie John Gibson was sensational in his playoff debut with the Ducks.|
"I don't want to give ourselves too much credit here," Getzlaf said. "We've not accomplished a whole lot. We've came here, and we played like we needed to win. We're going to have to play better. It's a matter of going forward now and getting better as we go."
What's odd about a series in which the "road" team is 4-0, is the winning team hasn't yet been very satisfied with its overall game. That's representative of how closely these two teams are matched up, but also because they play very similar games. The team scoring first is also 4-0, which is not an anomaly. The team scoring first gets to set the tone and lay down its defensive grip on the other and suffocate the opponent.
"Yup, it has been important," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said of the first goal. "You don't want to think it's important, but, obviously, in this series, it has been."
Sutter decided to make his own goalie headlines Saturday night, pulling star Quick after he allowed two goals on 11 shots in the opening period and replacing him with backup Martin Jones.
Boudreau said, like many, he was surprised by Quick being pulled, and yet ...
"At the same time, on the bench during the first period, I was saying that Quick didn't look like himself," Boudreau said. "I've got so much respect for that guy. I never think a goal is going to go in unless it bounces in off something. I'm sure he'll be back in Monday playing the best game of his life. I was surprised a little."
It was likely more a case of Sutter wanting to wake up a slumbering squad.
"Should have done it sooner. They were scared to shoot at [Gibson]," Sutter said.
What's bothering the Kings coach right now is as clear as day.
"We have trouble scoring against Anaheim," Sutter said. "They're doing a good job of keeping us to the outside, keeping top players to the perimeter. Give them credit. Not allowing us any time or space. Some of our top guys have to fight through it more."
That's exactly what Boudreau was saying after the opening two games, which again underlines how both teams are doing the same things to each other to limit time and space.
Right now, though, the Kings are the ones feeling frustrated.
We leave the last word to Sutter, who delivered a gem of a sarcastic response when asked just how his team would recover from losing two straight at home to Anaheim. After all, we're talking about a Kings team that came back from 3-0 down to San Jose last round.
"I don't think I can recover," Sutter said. "It's almost impossible."
In this series, anything is possible.