A COMEBACK FOR THE AGES – KINGS ELIMINATE DUCKS 5-4 IN SHOOTOUT
I sat in my favorite restaurant in Orange County at 5:00pm. I had left work early. My better half and two friends were heading to the game afterward. One of my friends is also the restaurant owner. He sat down with a smile on his face and took out two bottles of beer that put a smile on mine. A 750 ml Stone Arrogant Bastard and a Stone Ruination, the latter being my favorite brew. As I flipped through the menu that I had seen hundreds of times before, a dish caught my eye. Roasted Duck. Hmm. It seemed appropriate. The menu read, “Roasted tender half duck with an orange brandy sauce, finished and flamed with Grand Marnier. Served with creamy mashed potatoes and lightly herbed fresh vegetables. A special family recipe.” Done. The beer was poured. A toast was made to a great game and I enjoyed for the next 20 minutes a tender and delicious bird as only this restaurant could make it.
6:00 pm came and we headed out. For those that have never been to the Honda Center, it is a chaotic zoo. There is little sense of organization. Imagine a bunch of moronic millionaires haphazardly building a parking structure around an arena with little planning and even less foresight. To enter the Honda Center, one has to maneuver orange cones, not including those posing as Duck fans, and rent a cops whose only job is to wave you through regardless of traffic. I saw today one woman trying to make a u-turn from the far right lane on what is essentially a one way street while the Anaheim police kept waving. Parked. Doughty 8 jersey on. Hair brushed back with my hands only to have it fall back over my eyes. Let’s play some damn hockey.
I entered the arena with angst. I hate the Ducks. I abhor the majority of their ignorant milk toast fan base and everything that is orange about them. We entered the arena through the VIP section and went to our seats in section 320. Nice. Near center ice. View perspective equivalent to the Staples Center premium seats. “Want a beer?” my buddy asked. Am I that transparent? He grabbed two overpriced drafts of something or other, I put it away quickly and watched my boys circle the right half of the ice and take shots at Quick. The warm ups ended as they usually do with Ryan Smyth the last player off the ice. He skated to the glass and threw a couple of pucks over to two kids. A nice gesture by a class act.
The fat girl with a great voice sang the anthem. I had a lot of energy in the tank. One way to let it out. “LET’S GO KINGS!” clapclap clapclapclap, I screamed. It took seconds. “LET’S GO KINGS!” sounded hundreds, followed by the rhythmic pressed palms. Hundreds became thousands. The crowd was alive and Kings fans appeared ready to show their inferior counter parts the songs we sing.
For all the ready momentum that fed my heart, the Kings entered this game without one. 1-0. Bobby Ryan from behind the net to Jason Blake. Nice defense boys. 2-0. Jason Blake with a pass that caught O’Donnell sleeping and Quick waking up. Selanne put in his own rebound. End of the first. What the hell was that? The Kings weren’t playing defense while at the same time managing to keep their defensemen back on each offensive rush. Murray’s line changes were timed perfectly with the Kings entering the offensive zone with speed and gaining control. Randy Jones and Sean O’Donnell resembled those orange cones from earlier but for in Kings jerseys. I don’t know which one of the two was worse. Randy Jones answered that question for me in the second.
A little over 2 minutes in the middle period, Quick stopped the puck behind the net. He made what some may call a pass and others a fumble to Randy Jones. Jones handled the puck with his ever present grace by delivering it right on Bobby Ryan’s stick who put it in the empty net. As I watched Randy Jones skate to the bench with his head down, I suddenly got a flash back of a scene from Young Frankenstein.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Now that brain that you gave me. Was it Hans Delbruck’s?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Ah! Very good. Would you mind telling me whose brain I DID put in?
Igor: Then you won’t be angry?
Igor: Abby Someone.
Igor: Abby Normal.
Igor: I’m almost sure that was the name.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: [chuckles] Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a seven and a half foot long, fifty-four inch wide GORILLA?
[grabs Igor and starts throttling him]
I imagine said gorilla, the lovable Fronkensteen monster would play better defense than this half witted hack of a hockey player with the acumen of warm puck.
Now, why pray tell would Murray do that? From my excellent angle of the game, because Quick has not been the same goaltender since the Olympic break and he flat out sucked tonight. Throughout the game up to this point, he played the puck like it was live grenade. He didn’t want to stop it. He didn’t want to hold it. He wanted to get it away from him with a pad, stick, blocker, whatever he could haphazardly get a piece of equipment on in whatever direction it would go. That is not goaltending. That is a goaltender that has lost anything that resembles focus.
Dustin Brown potted a working man’s goal half way through the second. He bolted past a surprised James Wisniewski, lost the puck to McElhinney who poke checked it but quickly picked it up and put it into the net. Dustin’s goal did a couple of things. It gave the Kings some life and it brought to my eyes (and not just my ears) how many Kings fans were in the arena. Look, it’s no secret that between the two fan bases, Kings fan have a larger following and a more passionate fan base. However, when I stand and cheer the Dustin Brown goal and look around to see what appears to be around seven to eight thousand Kings fans stand and cheer among me, I cannot help but feel a sense of pride.
Selanne, after whose retirement I will throw a party as a good riddance gathering, made it 4-1 a couple of minutes thereafter. I wasn’t so much upset at the goal as I was at how Ersberg could give it up. He was square to the shooter, the pass to Teemu was a slow and predictable one and Ersberg was set and in position. It was a bad goal, one that was ill afforded and ill timed.
Kings fans are no strangers to come backs. Miracle at Manchester. Frenzy at Figueroa. The Royal Rebound. Tonight, something happened with about 5 minutes in the second. Something we have seen before. It wasn’t just a momentum shift. A different team suddenly stepped on the ice. On the powerplay, on what was a broken play, Alexander Frolov somehow ended up with the puck in front of the net. I am fairly certain it was the Ducks’ defender that actually knocked it in but when I heard the announcer credit the goal to Dustin Brown, I looked up to see the replay on the big screen and saw what I would think everyone else would have seen. Frolov touched it last before the Ducks helped it into the net. More importantly, the Kings were skating. They were winning battles along the boards. They were also doing something that I refuse to believe was the result of anything that came out of Terry Murray’s mouth. They were skating the puck over the blue line and keeping it. While the period ended 4-2, there had been a very palpable shift, one that Kings fans had seen before turn into the unlikely comeback.
The intermission between the second and third got off to a fine start. Two empty seats one row below us and to our right became occupied by two very attractive and very well endowed blonde girls in their, I am guessing, mid 20′s. One of them turned and smiled. I looked at the wife with a sheepish “what? I didn’t smile back.” The wife leaned over to me and asked me to get the name of her surgeon. I laughed and told her I would see what I could do.
The Kings came onto the ice ready for battle. Perhaps this is post game imaginative memory at work here but I got a sense watching our boys skate onto the ice that they were loose and relaxed. I didn’t see a team with the body language that spoke of a two goal deficit. I saw a group of hockey players ready to play their best.
Justin Williams has very slowly, as in a snail moving uphill in three inches of slow kind of slowly, started to come into form. At 7:56, he served a small dish of crow to his vocal critics by taking the puck past McElhinney, behind the net and then tucked it back across the red line and into the EXPLOSION THAT BECAME THE HONDA CENTER. Every Kings fan in attendance came out of their seats, some into the air, myself practically in the section to my left as the Kings cut the lead to one. The goal was a thing of beauty. Kopitar and Smyth got the assists. For what felt like 1o minutes thereafter, but was likely less, my fellow maniacal fans and I chanted. “LET’S GO KINGS!” clapclap clapclapclap. “LET’S GO KINGS!” clapclap clapclapclap. The Ducks fans tried. Small pockets attempted to overtake our fury. But it was not to be. We had taken over their arena and with one more goal, we were taking over this game. The Kings attacked. The Ducks skated back. McElhinney tried to hold off the attack. Make no mistake. The Kings were not playing to finish strong. They were playing to win. But as the clock ticked down to 2 minutes, I directed my eyes right, past the two amazing blondes and to our goaltender. I watched Erik Ersberg skate to the bench with just over a minute left in the game. I placed my hands in a praying gesture in front of my mouth. I said nothing. I thought nothing. It was a reaction to the moment and we needed a great moment to happen here. We needed a King to become for one night, our hero and a Hockey God. Zeus. The God of Gods. In Greek mythology, there is none greater. At 1:09 of the third period, our own Michal became the very one.
Honda Center was sent into a thunderous frenzy. Ducks fans looked on in a state of shock. Blondes bounced in glory. High fives were exchanged with rows ahead, to my left, right and behind. I grabbed my friend in a manly embrace. We had tied the game. We had tied the fucking game.
What was in store for us now? Would we actually give this back to them? Are you joking?
The Kings nearly won it in regulation. While my heart still pounded, I watched Kopitar just miss scoring the game winner. That was followed by an overtime which saw end to end action and both goaltenders coming up huge to send the game to the second consecutive shootout between these teams.
What a game.
It wasn’t over.
We had to win.
Corey Perry, a player that raises the ire of my co-writer Surly like no other, put the puck and himself into the net on the Ducks’ first attempt. Jarret Stoll clanked his chance off the post. Ersberg robbed Selanne for what will be his last shot against the Kings. Jack mother freaking money Johnson scored to tie the shootout 1-1. Enter Koivu who had won the game at the Saturday meeting. Not tonight Saku. Not likely ever again in a Ducks jersey after the season.
The name brings a smile to every Kings fans’ lips. Hey, it takes a special player to cause me to start a religion in his honor. Kopitarians and gentiles stood around North America. The game was on Anze’s stick. Would he go to the backhand and slid it under the pads? Would he go high glove? Would he deke? Would he…no…would he?
As the game ended and I stood out of breath watching the Kings celebrate and then skate off, one of the two blondes walked by me, grabbed my forearm and said “See you at Staples.” I looked at my wife and told her, as I had suspected earlier, “I think they’re real.”
LET’S GO KINGS!