With the Pacific Division hanging in the balance, the depth proved the difference.
A pair of goals in rapid succession turned the game as the Anaheim Ducks fell 2-1 to the Los Angeles Kings Thursday night at STAPLES Center.
Anaheim was dealt even more bad fortune in the pregame warmups, with defenseman Sami Vatanen a late scratch due to the flu. He became the fifth everyday skater out of the lineup for the game, forcing a late insertion of Korbinian Holzer and jumbling along the backed.
With the previous meeting between the two teams seeing a line brawl and rough and tumble game that resulted in 80 penalty minutes total, the officials were quick to establish a tighter precedent. LA and Anaheim were each whistled for four minors in the opening period, but the Ducks struck first during a stretch of four on four play.
Jakob Silfverberg won the puck along the end boards off a forecheck and curled with the puck in the near circle, as Ryan Kesler jostled with Luke Schenn in front of Jonathan Quick. With the Angeleno goalie leaning to try and see through the screen, Kesler got a quick release from Schenn to the back post, when Silfverberg hit him with a laser pass to rip home the first goal of the game at 16:11.
The score came against the run of play, with Los Angeles out-shooting the Ducks 9-5 in the opening frame. The teams combined for 25 hits, with the Kings taking advantage some early shuffling of the pairs along the Ducks blue line to dominate in shot attempt and scoring chance generation.
It took just 28 seconds for that early control to break through in the second period for the hosts, as LA seized control on the scoreboard with a pair of goals in the first 2:01 of the middle frame. First it was Milan Lucic, then Kris Versteeg getting to his own deflection to swat a rebound home to turn the game to a 2-1 Kings lead.
Between the scores, Schenn made up for losing Kesler on Anaheim's opener by drawing Ryan Getzlaf into a fight. The defender took chops and shoves at Getzlaf with Anaheim in the attacking zone, irking Getzlaf and leading to a brief fight in the neutral zone. With the captain in the penalty box, the Ducks offense cratered, generating just two even strength shot attempts. A Versteeg penalty enabled five attempts, but once Getzlaf returned Anaheim was forced to kill a pair of LA power plays.
John Gibson made 13 of his 29 total saves in the second period as Anaheim was outshot 15-7.
The teams skated through a scoreless third period, and though the Ducks ended up with more shots on goal by an 8-7 margin, couldn't get many of the looks from quality areas they did get on goal. Los Angeles finished with a 48-25 shot attempt margin for the game at five on five, and dominated generating an 11-4 high danger chance edge at evens.
With the win, Los Angeles now can guarantee their second ever division title in the franchise's 49th year with a win against Winnipeg on Saturday. Anaheim would need to win both of their remaining road games and have the Kings either lose in overtime or regulation to win their fourth straight division title.
Anaheim travels to Colorado next, and will face the Avalanche at 2:30 PM on Saturday, before heading to Washington DC to make up their snow postponed game against the Capitals on Sunday.