The final meeting of the Freeway Faceoff and one team is in the playoffs, the other is on the outside. In years past, the team on the outside would have been the Kings, but not this year. The Ducks are the ones looking in and the Kings have already clinched a spot. They will make their first playoff appearance since 2002. The Ducks will not make the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
The Kings handily took the six game series winning four of the games, including the final game 5-4 in a shootout.
It was a game for the Ducks that symbolized their problems all season. They could not play a full 60 minutes. They blew a three goal lead. They stopped moving their feet and sat back. They did not have the needed sense of urgency until it was too late. Another point slipped away. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
“Today was a game that was very similar to many that we played this year,” captain Scott Niedermayer agreed. “It was disappointing to let it get away. It’s been a tough year. We’re disappoint that we’re in this situation. We’re not happy at all.”
By the time they got to the shootout, it didn’t matter anyway. Colorado defeated Vancouver in a shootout just seconds prior to the start of the Ducks shootout. That win, coupled with Calgary’s earlier defeat in the evening, meant that the Avs clinched the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. All that gets decided from here is the final ranking from first through eighth.
For the Ducks, it is a bitter pill to swallow. There are players on the Ducks who have never sat out the post-season. Now they will know the feeling for the first time.
“It’s not a lot of fun,” said veteran Todd Marchant. “It’s a year that’s gone by in your life and your career that you’ve got to start all over again. It’s tough. It’s an awful feeling. It’s a bitter taste that sits in your mouth the whole summer.”
The Ducks had a 4-2 lead going into the third period. A power play goal from Jason Blake, two goals from Teemu Selanne, including one on the power play and another from Bobby Ryan, his first since March 17, gave the Ducks a cushion, despite being outshot 22-11 by the Kings.
After Ryan’s goal, Jonathan Quick was relieved of duty an Erik Ersberg inserted in his place. Ersberg only let in one goal and was virtually ignored in the third period by the Ducks.
Dustin Brown got the Kings on the board at 9:46 in the middle period, and Alexander Frolov scored got a power play goal late.
In the final frame, the Kings threw everything at Curtis McElhinney, getting his sixth consecutive start in net. Outshot 16-3 in the final 20 minutes, the Ducks were fortunate that the game was merely tied at the end of regulation. Goals from Justin Williams at 7:56 and Michal Handzus at 18:51 (with Ersberg pulled for the extra attacker) made it 4-4 and required overtime.
“We played hard,” said coach Randy Carlyle, who has not missed a postseason since coming to the Ducks. “It just seemed like we ran out of gas tonight. We just didn’t have enough to finish it off.”
They had enough in the overtime period, though, outshooting the Kings 7-2. Another case of too little, too late. And in the shootout, the Kings prevailed. Corey Perry had the only goal for the Ducks, while both Jack Johnson and Anze Kopitar scored for the Kings.
Game over with two knives in the back. First from Colorado and then from the Kings. Ouch.
“To go from needing to start the year better, to coming out of the Olympic break losing five in a row, those things hurt us,” said Perry, who looked as shocked and subdued as the rest of the players in the locker room. “We missed the playoffs. It’s not good and not fun. You play this game wo win championships and this year we don’t get to be a part of that process.”
Three more games to go and not one of them matter for the teams involved. Not one.
“The best thing the players can do is remember it all summer and not let it happen again,” cautioned Marchant.
Ducks fans certainly will remember.