Ducks raise level of play for must win
But with that passing lane closed, he did about the last thing he ever wanted: He shot the puck.
He of nine career regular-season goals whistled it top shelf on Jonathan Quick, no less; a dagger of a goal which stood up as the winner for the Anaheim Ducks on a night that had a little bit of everything.
"Easily No. 1," Lovejoy chuckled when asked where that goal stood in his career. "I don't score many goals. So they're all very, very, very special. But that was the first [fist] pump of my life, the first celebration, I hope I did it right. But it was an emotional goal and a big win for this team."
Knowing that a loss would dig a series hole every team wants to avoid, the Ducks showed a lot of moxie Thursday night in a gritty performance that needed all kinds of contributors.
"We all know being down 3-0 to the Kings wouldn't be a situation nice to be in," captain Ryan Getzlaf said after the Ducks' 3-2 win that cut the Kings' series lead to 2-1. "The guys did a great job responding tonight and getting back to where we need to be."
Getzlaf and fellow star linemate Corey Perry set the tone for this game, dictating play in the first period with Perry opening the scoring on the power play.
"I played them every third shift there for a while because I thought they were way more engaged tonight than I've seen them in the series," Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau said of the strong performance by his star duo.
"After the last couple of games, we knew we had to be better and raise our level," Getzlaf said. "I thought we were able to do that for the most part tonight."
Vatanen, recalled from AHL Norfolk on Wednesday, brought some real pace from the back end, as he confidently moved the puck up and added a zesty ingredient to that third pairing with Bryan Allen.
"I thought Sami was great," Boudreau said. "I got to tell you I thought he was the best player on the ice for both teams tonight."
The Ducks coach surprised everyone in the building when he replaced Jonas Hiller -- who was solid in Games 1 and 2 -- with Andersen, who had been lit up in the opening round by Dallas.
Why the switch? Boudreau said he looked at Hiller's career 0-5-2 record at Staples Center compared with Andersen's 2-0 mark.
"It was like a baseball manager, went with the guy that was comfortable here," Boudreau said. "And Hiller got the save."
Andersen was terrific in stopping 22 of 23 shots before suffering a lower-body injury (he didn't put any weight on his right leg leaving the ice) with 9:58 to go in the third period.
Indeed, the Swiss veteran was cool in relief.
"I thought Hilly came in under tough circumstances and made a couple of real big saves, except for the baseball goal that they scored," Boudreau said.
Mike Richards made things interesting when he scored with 31 seconds to go for the Kings, just moments after Perry snapped his stick as he attempted what looked like a sure open-net goal at the other end, which would have made it 4-1.
Having given up a 2-1 lead to the Kings in Game 1 with just seven seconds left, those 31 seconds felt like an eternity for Anaheim. All part of a third period in which not only was their starting goalie injured but first-line left-winger Matt Beleskey had left after getting hit into the boards by Dustin Brown and falling awkwardly.
At the end of the day, with a short bench, a different goalie and a missed open net caused by a broken stick, the Ducks still prevailed.
"It has been like this all year, I always joke that we sell tickets because you never know what's going to happen in our games," veteran Teemu Selanne joked.
"I thought our guys did a great job staying calm," Getzlaf added. "Those are high-pressure moments, especially when they scored one late."
Selanne's goal 15:10 into the second period was an important moment, too, allowing the Ducks to play with a lead again after Jeff Carter had tied it for the Kings 4:59 into the middle period. It makes a world of difference for Anaheim if the Ducks aren't chasing the game, as the Kings are just so hard to beat when they have a lead.
Make it two goals in three games for the 43-year-old Selanne, a healthy scratch for Game 4 in the opening round.
"Playoffs, I think every player tries to raise his level and that's what I'm trying to do, too. I feel great," said Selanne, who is retiring after this season. "Even down 2-0 [in the series], I told the boys, 'Let's enjoy it. This is the time to enjoy.' Every inch matters, every shift, every shot. Hopefully this was momentum-changing and a good confidence boost for us."
The more desperate team won on this night. The Kings lost an opportunity to put a serious squeeze on a SoCal rival that has been with them step for step in this series.
"The Ducks played harder than us tonight, they executed better," said the Kings' Richards, who scored his first goal of the playoffs. "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."
It wasn't a bad effort by any measure, but the Kings did give the Ducks better looks in Game 3.
"We made some turnovers that cost us," Kings center Jeff Carter said. "We were pretty sloppy in the neutral zone and turned pucks over and getting rushes the other way, that's something we didn't do the first two games, so we have to clean that up. We have to be hard on pucks, make strong plays and get pucks deep."
There is so little separating these two teams. This series didn't deserve a 3-0 gap. At 2-1, it's the battle we all thought we'd get. And it's only getting better.