LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings don't much care if the Anaheim Ducks choose John Gibson, Jonas Hiller, Frederik Andersen or a reincarnated Georges Vezina to start in goal in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal series Monday at Honda Center.
The Kings see their mission as the same no matter whom they face: create traffic in front of the net, get more shots through than they did in being blanked Saturday in Game 4 by Gibson, and turn up the heat on the precocious rookie who radiated an unshakable poise in his first NHL playoff assignment.
"I know he's calm and cool or whatever, but it's our job to make his job a lot harder," Kings forward Mike Richards said Sunday.
"It's a tough situation that he's put in, with (Saturday) night maybe, possibly, their season on the line. It's now a best-of-three series, so it's a lot of pressure to put on a young kid."
Whether that's wishful thinking or reality will become apparent Monday.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, who acted on a gut feeling when he snubbed the veteran Hiller to start Gibson, skipped the subterfuge most coaches engage during the playoffs by announcing that Gibson will start Game 5. The Kings concealed any line-juggling or other changes they might be contemplating by moving up their Sunday practice on short notice, just in time for media to miss the session.
In any case, the Kings' line combinations and defense pairs figure to be less important than their ability to rattle Gibson, who became the youngest goalie in NHL history to record a shutout in his playoff debut at the age of 20 years and 330 days.
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty fully expected Hiller to start Saturday and said he was surprised to see Gibson instead. Doughty praised Gibson's performance but said the Kings didn't test him strenuously enough.
"We need to do more to get to him. We gave him too many easy shots and we didn't crash the net and get people in front of him," Doughty said. "He played good, but we've got to do a better job."
Doughty said players probably don't need to watch extensive video of Gibson, and he's right. Goalies at this level have individual quirks such as good or bad puck-handling skills, but few have huge flaws that can be easily exploited. And none is an unknown quantity. Gibson won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2013 World Junior Championships and led the Ducks' Norfolk (Va.) farm team to a first-round victory over the Kings' Manchester (N.H.) farm team in the American Hockey League playoffs. It's no secret that at 6 foot 3 and 210 pounds he covers a lot of net.
Standard strategy to beat a well-trained, well-scouted goalie is to try to distract him by creating activity around him, screening him, and, in the case of the Ducks' game plan against Jonathan Quick, get him moving side to side as much as possible. What will matter is the Kings' persistence and willingness to carry that out. They were credited Saturday with 28 shots on Gibson -- the Ducks had only 14 on Quick and Martin Jones -- as well as 18 missed shots. They had 25 other shots blocked by the Ducks' strong team defensive effort.
Quick's recommendation on how to gain the upper hand in the series was concise but indisputable. "Win. We've got to score more than them and we've got to give up less than them," he said. "We'll prepare to do that."
The Kings know it won't be that simple.
"You find a way to get it back. That's the only way you can do it," center Jarret Stoll said. "We need everyone pulling the right way. ... We know we've got to be better. We will be. We've won in that building before, so that's all we're worrying about -- going in and trying to win a tough Game 5, battle one out."
That part doesn't change no matter who's in the other net.
"I don't think we played poorly," Richards said, "but we just haven't gotten to that desperation level we had in San Jose, where you're just fighting for every inch on the ice, and I think that's what we need, that mentality that we have to get back to."
(c)2014 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services