Alexander: Kings edge Ducks in latest installment of Freeway Futures Game

ANAHEIM — Someday, the Ducks and Kings will be good again, and their games against each other will have playoff implications like the good old days. It could be sooner, but it more likely will be later.

In the meantime, SoCal’s NHL rivalry is interesting in more subtle ways, as long as the observer understands the greater ambitions for these franchises. Success is measured in little things, in the ways the young players both sides possess stick to their systems, reduce mistakes and turn them into positive moments.

Thursday night it was the Kings’ turn to celebrate on the ice, their 2-1 victory ending an 11-game road losing streak. It included goals from veteran Jeff Carter and youngster Matt Luff, a 36-save performance from Jonathan Quick that brought back visions of a time when elite goaltending made the Kings an elite team, and an old-school, toe-to-toe heavyweight brawl between former teammates, the Kings’ Kurtis MacDermid and the Ducks’ Nic Deslauriers.

The latter, which took place midway through the second period and went to MacDermid on what This Space would consider a split decision, livened things up considerably. The back story was that the two were roommates in the Kings’ development camp years ago, and from the way they comported themselves during the fight and afterward, the mutual respect was evident.

pic.twitter.com/LWgm2XSRE3

— Eric (@Kingsgifs) December 13, 2019

MacDermid, a rugged 6-foot-5, 233-pound defenseman who was signed as an undrafted free agent, is an example of the type of player who, developed successfully, can be a mainstay of this rivalry in the future. He’s played the bulk of the last four seasons in Ontario, with 34 games with the Kings in 2017-18 and 11 last season, and he is a minus-3 in 18 games with the Kings this year.

But there is significant progress there.

“If we had a category … for most improved, in my opinion, he would get first, second and third place,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “He’s really come a long way. I know that Yawns (Trent Yawney), our back end coach, has a tremendous amount of confidence in him, and I think he feels that. And his teammates love having him in the lineup. So he works at his game and he deserves the ice time he’s getting. If that progression continues, we’ve got a pretty darn good player.”

How much did McClellan know about MacDermid before he took the job?

“Dermie? You know, those type of players, you know a little bit about,” he said. “They carry reputations. I didn’t know that he was as effective a player as he was. And he just continues to show us night after night that he’s very capable of playing.”

MacDermid, 25, is an example of what the Kings are developing. Luff, who knocked a loose puck past John Gibson for the Kings’ first goal, is another. The 22-year-old was sent back to Ontario for a spell last month, has been in the lineup off and on since, and is searching for that comfort zone that will enable him to play on instinct.

“I’ve got a good leadership core here,” he said, referring to forwards Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli. “I mean, those guys talk to me and make sure I understand that there is time and I don’t have to rush a play.

“There’s always a point where, when you’ve played enough games, you’re (familiar with) the system, where you should be and shouldn’t be when the puck’s on different sides of the ice. And I think I’ve settled in more recently, versus when I was first up here. So now it’s kind of just going with the flow of the game and not thinking, just going with what I know is going to happen and just using that to my advantage.”

The progress from a team standpoint is going from not getting blown out to being close to actually finishing plays and winning games. It sounds easier than it is.

Drew Doughty knows it’s hard to rush the process, but he senses that the Kings’ young guys are getting it. Or at least starting to.

“It’s different nowadays,” he said. “Back when I was a young guy it was all about making good defensive plays. And that’s kind of what you were (evaluated) on. Now it’s about creating plays, and getting up there and having lots of shots on net and stuff like that. They all have that naturally, (and) we just have to kind of help them a little bit with the D zone.

“Early in the season, we were giving up too many goals and then we were getting dominated. But now these young guys are learning how to play defense and how to do the right things in our own zone. And that’s why we’re playing better.”

When he was a young guy? This is his 12th NHL season, at age 30. If that makes you, the fan, feel old, you aren’t alone.

“That’s a pretty long time ago,” he said. “But yeah, I still got lots of time left in me.”

As previously noted, the Kings and Ducks are in basically the same predicament. But the Ducks have been a lot more aggressive in sending players back and forth between Anaheim and their AHL team in San Diego than the Kings have in shuffling players between the L.A. and Ontario rosters.

Ducks coach Dallas Eakins says he sees progress, but nights like Thursday – when his guys seemed to do everything but finish at the net – are yet another reminder of how hard this game is.

“We’re going to be sticking with the plan,” he said. “We’ve got some very good young players who are doing their best to get better every day, and we’re just hoping these reps they’re getting and the reps they’re getting in San Diego are going to turn out good for them.

“Young players are going to have up and down nights. Our veteran guys, if you graph them out, it’s a very even line graph. Younger guys kind of go up and down. But overall, I think our guys are doing well.”

The best way to be a Ducks or a Kings fan these days? Don’t focus on the standings for a while. Think of the future.


The Kings’ Matt Luff, left, celebrates with teammate Michael Amadio after scoring a first-period goal during their 2-1 victory over the rival Ducks on Thursday night at Honda Center. One of several young players on the Kings’ roster, the 22-year-old Luff was sent back to the team’s AHL affiliate in Ontario for a spell last month, has been in the lineup off and on since, and is searching for the comfort zone that will enable him to play on instinct. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Ducks show off resilient play in victory over rival Sharks

ANAHEIM — There was a relentless quality to the Ducks’ play Saturday during their 3-1 victory over the rival San Jose Sharks at Honda Center. You could see it when they chased down loose pucks in the corners and at center ice. You could see it as they pressured the Sharks from one end of the rink to the other.

One sequence summed it all up in one tidy package in the pivotal second period, after the Ducks had given up the tying goal and they could have succumbed to the frustration and lack of confidence that plagued them so frequently last season.

Josh Manson settled down the play in his own end of the ice, passing the puck to defense partner Hampus Lindholm, who passed it ahead to Ondrej Kase at the defensive blue line, and then Kase passed it ahead to a streaking Ryan Getzlaf at the attacking blue line.

Wait, Getzlaf streaking?

It was true.

It happened in a flash.

The Ducks’ 34-year-old center got a step on the Sharks’ defense and raced in to restore the lead.

A little more than a minute passed from the time Logan Couture scored for the Sharks and Getzlaf countered for the Ducks. Instead of letting down after Couture’s goal, the Ducks regrouped, applying the sort of pressure they had absorbed in the past.

The Sharks, not the Ducks, were the vulnerable team. San Jose was thumped twice by the Vegas Golden Knights to start the season, including by 5-1 on Friday, and had trouble keeping pace with the fresher Ducks. Getzlaf and the Ducks feasted on the Sharks’ flatfooted play.

“I thought we did a good job of responding tonight after the goal,” Adam Henrique said, referring to Getzlaf’s charge down the ice to score. “Right from the D-zone, Kase to Getzlaf and Getzlaf made a great play. I think that was a key for us tonight.”

In the closing minutes, after the Ducks were penalized for having too many men on the ice, goaltender John Gibson came up with several key stops and the Sharks were turned away repeatedly. Gibson made 35 saves and has stopped 67 of 69 shots in two victories to start the season.

“He’s been incredible through the first two games,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said of Gibson. “He’s been our best penalty-killer.”

Nicolas Deslauriers made his Ducks debut as Eakins altered his lineup after Thursday’s opening-night win over the Arizona Coyotes. Deslauriers brought Ducks fans to their feet with a spirited first-period fight with the Sharks’ Brenden Dillon.

Another lineup change resulted in Michael Del Zotto replacing Korbinian Hozler in the Ducks’ third defense pair. The move paid dividends when Del Zotto scored only 3:38 into the game, after an alert pass from Kase, following goalie Aaron Dell’s misplay with the puck behind the net.

The Ducks held a one-goal lead until Erik Karlsson fed a pass to a circling Couture in the right faceoff circle and Couture beat Gibson to tie it 1-1 at 5:44 of the second period. The Sharks’ goal came moments after the Ducks had been pressing for a second goal.

Kase then set up Getzlaf for the tiebreaking strike with a pass that freed the Ducks’ captain from the trailing Sharks. Getzlaf made one quick, decisive move and beat Dell to make it 2-1 at 6:51, crashing into the end boards with a thud that was drowned out by the roars of the crowd.

Henrique made it 3-1 at 18:48 of the second, stripping the puck from San Jose’s Tomas Hertl in the neutral zone and then zipping past the Sharks’ Kevin Labanc before lifting a backhanded shot from point-blank range over Dell’s left shoulder. Dell had zero chance on the play.

“Getting up one, you want to get that next one,” Henrique said of the Ducks’ attitude after Getzlaf had given them a 2-1 lead. “You want to keep pushing. You don’t want to sit back and allow them to come at us. You want to keep pushing. As a younger group, that’s something we have to learn.

“It will allow us to grow as a group.”

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Gulls fall to Wolves in double-OT in Game 4 of Western Conference final

The San Diego Gulls played on a knife’s edge for most of Game 4 of the AHL’s Western Conference final Friday against the Chicago Wolves. Their margin for error was razor thin as the teams skated into a second overtime, deadlocked at a goal apiece.

Ultimately, the Gulls were caught in transition one too many times and paid the price when the Wolves’ Daniel Carr scored 6:01 into the second OT period to give Chicago a 2-1 victory in front of 12,147 at Pechanga Arena. Kevin Boyle simply couldn’t save the Gulls from themselves.

Boyle made 42 saves, but he couldn’t stop Carr’s shot that capped an odd-man rush as the Gulls got caught up ice. Justin Kloos had scored the tying goal for the Gulls at 3:36 of the third period, forcing the teams to overtime for the second time in four games in the series.

“He kept us in it and he had one hell of a night,” Gulls coach Dallas Eakins said of Boyle. “I thought he was excellent in the net. That game could have been three or four to nothing after two periods and he kept us close enough that we could get it tied up.”

The Gulls, the Ducks’ AHL team, and the Wolves, the Vegas Golden Knights’ top minor-league affiliate, are tied 2-2 in the best-of-7 series. Game 5 is Saturday in San Diego. Game 6, which is now necessary, will be played Monday at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois.

The winner of the Gulls-Wolves series faces the winner of the Eastern Conference final between the Charlotte Checkers and the Toronto Marlies. The Checkers took a 3-2 series lead over the Marlies with a 4-1 victory Friday at Toronto.

Kloos scored on a quick shot from the edge of the right faceoff circle to tie the score 1-1 only 3:36 into the third. Jack Kopacka sent a backhanded pass into an open patch of ice and Kloos skated onto the puck and beat Wolves goalie Oscar Dansk.

The Gulls opened Game 4 by outshooting the Wolves by 5-1, but they couldn’t maintain their early energy and momentum. By the end of a scoreless first period, the Gulls were outshot 15-9, and only the superb play of Boyle prevented them from trailing by a goal or more.

Chicago continued to dominate play to start the second, testing Boyle repeatedly until the Wolves’ Griffin Reinhart slammed a shot into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead at 4:17. Boyle stopped the Wolves’ first 20 shots, but he was helpless to stop Reinhart as he skated into the slot and scored.

San Diego chased the game for most of the first two periods before finally stringing three or four quality shifts together in the closing minutes of the second. The Gulls were outshot 16-3 in the second and by 31-12 going into the third.

“We had a terrible start the first two periods,” Gulls defenseman Jaycob Megna said. “We couldn’t seem to get anything going. It didn’t seem like we wanted it or were as desperate as they were. We came out in the third period and I thought we showed a lot more desperation. We played a lot better.

“You get into overtime and it’s anyone’s game.”

Boyle went into the game with a 3-0 record, a 2.06 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in the playoffs, having regained the No. 1 goaltender’s position in favor of Jeff Glass after shutting out the Wolves in Game 2 at Rosemont.

Boyle didn’t play in five straight because of a head injury suffered in Game 2 of the Gulls’ second-round series victory over the Bakersfield Condors. The Gulls eliminated the Condors in six games and advanced to their first conference finals in the fourth season of the franchise.

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Sam Steel, Trevor Murphy lead Gulls to victory over Wolves in Game 3

Sam Steel scored a highlight reel-caliber goal while the San Diego Gulls were shorthanded and defenseman Trevor Murphy added what proved to be the winner in a 3-2 victory Wednesday over the Chicago Wolves in Game 3 of the AHL’s Western Conference final at Pechanga Arena.

San Diego, the Ducks’ AHL team, leads the best-of-7 series 2-1.

Games 4 and 5 are Friday and Saturday at Pechanga Arena. The winner of the Western Conference final meets the winner of the Eastern Conference final between Charlotte and Toronto in the Calder Cup final. Charlotte leads that series 2-1, with Game 4 set for Thursday in Toronto.

The Gulls led 3-1 going into the third period despite losing defenseman Andy Welinski to a five-minute major and a game misconduct for a check to the head of Chicago’s Cody Glass a little more than five minutes into the second period. Glass was not seriously injured and continued to play.

“Losing Andy in the game that early is a big blow to us because he’s a big part of our offense back there,” Gulls coach Dallas Eakins told reporters in San Diego. “He’s a big part of our power play. That being said, when you see a player laying there like that … you hold your breath.

“We don’t want to see anyone hurt.”

Steel had scored a short-handed goal to give the Gulls a 2-1 lead at 3:34 of the second. Steel plucked a breakout pass by Wolves goalie Oscar Dansk out of midair along the right-wing boards and then skated in alone to slip a shot between Dansk’s legs for the tiebreaking goal.

Chicago’s Curtis McKenzie was penalized for roughing as a fracas broke out following Welinski’s hard hit on Glass in the corner to the left of Gulls goalie Kevin Boyle. So, the teams skated 4 on 4 for two minutes before the Wolves went on a three-minute power play.

The Gulls blanked the Wolves, though, and then Murphy extended San Diego’s lead to 3-1 with an even-strength goal at 11:44. Murphy capped a scramble in front of Dansk’s net by slamming a perimeter shot through traffic and past the well-screened goalie.

Corey Tropp of the Gulls countered Tye McGinn’s goal for the Wolves and the score was tied 1-1 after the first period. McKenzie brought the Wolves, the Vegas Golden Knights’ AHL club, within 3-2 when he scored with Dansk pulled for a sixth attacker with 3:30 left in the third period.

Chicago had a two-man advantage for 53 seconds in the first period, but couldn’t break a 1-1 deadlock. Kiefer Sherwood was whistled for tripping at 12:05 and Sam Carrick followed his Gulls teammate to the penalty box for cross-checking at 13:13.

The Wolves were 0 for 4 on the power play; the Gulls were 0 for 2.

“I think the difference in the game tonight was our penalty killers came up big, not only killing off some crucial power plays … and they chipped in with a goal and it was a big one when it was 1-1,” Eakins said, referring to Steel’s short-handed goal. “For me, that was the difference tonight.

“Five on five, pretty even game.”

“Coming into our home ice, obviously we’re very comfortable here. Our fans are excellent. I thought they were a big part of our game tonight.” – head coach Dallas Eakins #FlightToTheCup | #LetsGoGulls pic.twitter.com/8GllTZHVcA

— x- San Diego Gulls (@SDGullsAHL) May 23, 2019

Real deal Sam Steel! 🔥#FlightToTheCup | #LetsGoGulls pic.twitter.com/HS5XbJQCjS

— x- San Diego Gulls (@SDGullsAHL) May 23, 2019

🚨TREVOR MURPHY!🚨

Makes it 3-1! Murphy with a blast from the blue line, through traffic, gives us the two-goal lead! Street and Tropp get the assists, eight to play in the second!#FlightToTheCup | #LetsGoGulls pic.twitter.com/9sCYy1NNY8

— x- San Diego Gulls (@SDGullsAHL) May 23, 2019

“It’s just a lot of fun. Two teams competing, going toe-to-toe. It’s a pretty good show for the fans. It’s playoff hockey.”

Trevor Murphy and Corey Tropp talk to the media following tonight’s Game 3 win. #FlightToTheCup | #LetsGoGulls pic.twitter.com/uKTOqJjost

— x- San Diego Gulls (@SDGullsAHL) May 23, 2019

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Rakell scores 3 in 2nd period to lead Ducks past Oilers

  • Anaheim Ducks’ Carter Rowney (24) and Edmonton Oilers’ Jujhar Khaira (16) battle for the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Anaheim Ducks’ Jacob Larsson (32) is checked by Edmonton Oilers’ Zack Kassian (44) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

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  • Anaheim Ducks’ goalie John Gibson (36) makes a save against the Edmonton Oilers during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Anaheim Ducks’ Max Jones (49) is stopped by Edmonton Oilers goalie Anthony Stolarz (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Anaheim Ducks’ Devin Shore (29), Sam Carrick (56) and Cam Fowler (4) celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Anaheim Ducks’ Carter Rowney (24) and Edmonton Oilers’ Andrej Sekera (2) skate for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Rickard Rakell took over the game with one big second period for the Anaheim Ducks.

Rakell scored all three of his goals in the middle period for a natural hat trick, powering the Ducks past the Edmonton Oilers 5-1 on Saturday night.

“I don’t think I’ve ever done that before,” Rakell said. “It’s nice to do that for the first time.”

Corey Perry and Devin Shore also scored for the Ducks, who have won two of their last three — and bounced back from a 6-1 loss to Calgary on Friday night.

“It felt great for our team,” Rakell said. “We were not happy with how we got pretty much dominated by Calgary last night. So when we have a good first period like that, we try to keep it going in the second and when you get a couple of goals, the whole team feels good and it’s much easier to play.”

Edmonton ended John Gibson’s shutout bid with 6:51 left in the game on Sam Gagner’s goal. Gibson finished with 30 saves while sending the Oilers to their second loss in a row.

“There was a long line of guys who didn’t play well,” Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock said.

Shortly after Jakob Silfverberg rang a shot off the post, Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen got a piece of Perry’s shot with his glove, only to see it trickle behind him into the net to give the Ducks a 1-0 lead with 4:43 remaining in the opening period.

The Ducks took a two-goal lead 1:21 into the second period when Silfverberg kept the puck in at the line and sent it to Rakell, who scored on a one-timer.

Rakell made it 3-0 at the 8:48 mark when he backhanded in a rebound for his second goal of the night and his sixth in the past five games.

Rakell completed the hat trick with 4:47 left to play in the second. Anthony Stolarz replaced Koskinen in net after that goal.

Anaheim added to its lead 1:29 into the third when Shore scored on a blast off of a faceoff.

“We’re depleted, that’s an understatement,” Perry said about the Ducks’ lengthy list of injuries. “Guys are getting a chance to play bigger roles, bigger minutes, learn what the game is in this league and how to play every single night and they’re getting a great experience for it.”

Ducks defenseman Jake Dotchin was ejected early in the game once it was discovered he had officially been listed as a scratch.

Oilers forward Milan Lucic, who picked up his 500th NHL point, said Edmonton is basically playing for pride.

“Unfortunately, it is going to be a long summer here,” he said. “We have to go out there and play the right way, play for each other and have fun doing it. It’s going to be a long final four games if we play sloppy and careless.”

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Ducks’ Ryan Miller upset about giving up shootout winner to Kings’ Anze Kopitar

  • Anaheim Ducks center Carter Rowney, left, and Los Angeles Kings left wing Austin Wagner reach for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Kings left wing Kyle Clifford, right, celebrates his goal as Anaheim Ducks goaltender Ryan Miller watches during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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  • Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick sprays himself with water prior to an NHL hockey game against the Anaheim Ducks Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Kings center Jeff Carter, right, celebrates his goal with right wing Dustin Brown during the second period of the team’s NHL hockey game against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Anaheim Ducks center Carter Rowney, left, and Los Angeles Kings left wing Austin Wagner reach for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Anaheim Ducks right wing Daniel Sprong, left, passes the puck while under pressure from Los Angeles Kings left wing Alex Iafallo during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Kings left wing Austin Wagner, right, passes the puck as Anaheim Ducks center Carter Rowney reaches for it during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Anaheim Ducks left wing Max Jones, center, moves the puck as Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, left, reaches for it while left wing Alex Iafallo chases during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Anaheim Ducks goaltender Ryan Miller looks back after a goal by Los Angeles Kings center Jeff Carter during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Kings center Adrian Kempe, left scuffles with Anaheim Ducks defenseman Korbinian Holzer during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Kings left wing Kyle Clifford (13) tries to score on Anaheim Ducks goaltender Ryan Miller, right, as defenseman Hampus Lindholm falls during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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LOS ANGELES — Ducks goaltender Ryan Miller was upset with himself Saturday. He said he should have known better. He’d seen that move before and should have been ready for it when Kings center Anze Kopitar tried in the second round of a shootout at Staples Center.

Kopitar scored the only goal in the shootout with a deft sleight of hand move that surprised Miller and the Kings edged the Ducks 4-3. Kopitar skated toward the net from the red line and then pulled the puck around Miller with his long reach as he skated toward the left goal post.

“He did it in the other direction two years ago,” Miller said. “It’s not impossible. I should know better. I didn’t want him to get ahead of me on the blocker side. The last three or four shootouts he’s had he shot, so obviously he changed it up. I probably should have set up better.”

Miller doesn’t maintain a physical book on the tendencies of opposing shooters, but he keeps it all in his head. He watches games, as most NHL players do, and files away what he sees and how it worked or didn’t work. His memory is impeccable.

“I just kind of know what’s going on,” he said. “I could probably tell you my whole career, honestly. Probably ever guy’s tendency I’ve seen more than once is probably something I can tell you. But it didn’t work the right way tonight.”

In the end, the Ducks were probably fortunate to have been in a shootout Saturday. Miller was superb during the five-minute overtime period, making four saves, including a point-blank denial of Kopitar, to keep the Ducks and Kings deadlocked at 3-3.

In the shootout, Kopitar was the only one to beat Miller, after Kyle Clifford (power play), Jeff Carter and Carl Grundstrom scored in regulation. Miller made 27 saves in regulation and overtime and was especially sharp in the first two periods, when the Ducks were outshot and outplayed.

Miller rebounded from a shaky performance in his last start, when he saved only 18 of 24 shots in the Ducks’ 6-1 loss March 14 to the Arizona Coyotes. Saturday’s start could be his second-to-last of the season, and perhaps in the 38-year-old’s career.

The Ducks have one more set of games on consecutive nights, when they play the Calgary Flames next Friday and the Edmonton Oilers next Saturday, and they’ll need Miller to spell John Gibson in one of those games. Miller also could start Tuesday against the Vancouver Canucks.

After all, he played three seasons with the Canucks before signing a two-year, $4-million contract July 1, 2017 to join the Ducks as a free agent. The 38-year-old is eligible to become a free agent again July 1, and he could re-sign or he could retire after a Hall of Fame-caliber career.

Although 2018-19 has been forgettable in almost every regard, it also was the season Miller passed John Vanbiesbrouck and became the all-time leader in victories by a United States-born goalie with 377. He is 7-6-2 in 18 appearances, his season shortened by a sprained knee.

Like his teammates, he’s been encouraged by the Ducks’ play in the last month or so, or since General Manager Bob Murray fired Randy Carlyle and assumed the coaching duties himself Feb. 10. The Ducks avoided playoff elimination Saturday by gaining one point with their shootout loss.

“There’s been better stretches of hockey,” Miller said. “The system has been better. For whatever reason, it wasn’t there. When a coach gets fired, it’s embarrassing. It’s on the players to play good hockey. Coaches can only tell you what to do, no matter what the situation.

“I thought for the most part, Bob has handled it pretty well. He’s going to be on the bench. Every game is going to be a tryout. Show me what you’ve got. There’s been guys playing better hockey and stepping up, so it’s been good.”

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Whicker: Only bright spot for Ducks is glare from Chicago’s stars

ANAHEIM — The Ducks moved one game closer Wednesday night to getting the type of player who beat them Wednesday night.

Their loss to Chicago improved their meager chances of getting a turnkey star in the 2019 draft.

That’s not what they planned, of course, especially since they turned a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 defeat. The probabilities of actually being in position to draft Michigan’s Jack Hughes or Finland’s Kaapo Kakko aren’t high enough to justify a four-game losing streak, or scrape the mold off the sensation. But as the Ducks play their first meaningless games since the spring of 2012, there has to be a pony in there somewhere.

Patrick Kane flashed up the right side and casually accepted Brandon Saad’s pass and fired it past Ryan Miller. It was his 40th goal of the season. It also broke the tie with 17 seconds left and appeared about as strenuous for him as hitting range balls.

The Ducks do not score like that. They busily chop wood until something materializes, not that it always does. They actually did that very well in this game, controlling much of the play. But Kane did his thing, 4:37 after Jonathan Toews did his, and that’s why your stars have to come out.

Toews has done a lot of damage on the east end of Honda Center over the years, normally in playoff games. Here, the Blackhawks’ captain circled the net and gunned a pass to Alex DeBrincat on the left side, just a tick before Hampus Lindholm could get his stick down. DeBrincat zipped it past Miller to tie it. It was his second goal Wednesday, the 36th of his sophomore NHL season.

Kane’s goal came after Ducks center Derek Grant had a chance in the slot and couldn’t get it past Corey Crawford.

“It was point-blank,” said assistant coach Mark Morrison, doing the postgame instead of General Manager/interim coach Bob Murray.

Emphasis on blank. Saad got loose and came down the left side, and Josh Manson came over to help Lindholm, leaving generous ice in front of Kane.

Toews and Kane haven’t been enough to keep Chicago over the playoff line this season, or last season either. Their contracts, and others, have forced the Blackhawks to water down a roster that went to the Cup Final in 2014 and won it in 2015. But just like Alex Ovechkin and Johnny Gaudreau and Sidney Crosby show on a regular basis, they can tip the scales of a balanced game. That is the problem for both the Ducks and Kings. The things that both teams do well don’t always earn points.

Morrison thought the Ducks played much better in most areas, and he was right. This was only the third time since Feb. 2 that they scored three goals.

Manson triggered the first one with a nice breakout pass that created a 2-on-2, and Devin Shore shot it past Crawford when his first shot was deflected back to him. Carter Rowney went into the left corner to win a puck and then camped in front of Crawford, to be rewarded by Ryan Kesler’s precise pass. Rowney’s score made it 2-2 late in the second period.

Anaheim took a 3-2 lead early in the third. Crawford, in his first game since a Dec. 16 concussion, was behind the net trying to neutralize the puck, and Grant ambushed him, then threw out a no-look pass.

“It landed right on my tape,” said Troy Terry, who saw Crawford flailing to recover and drilled the puck into the top left corner.

Long before that, the Ducks lost Rickard Rakell for the game when he boarded Blake Caggiula and left him sprawled on the ice for an uncomfortable period of time. Rakell was given a 5-minute major and the rest of the night off.

It wasn’t long ago that Rakell could score the do-it-yourself goals that rewarded his team’s skating and sweat. He had 34 goals last season, 33 the season before that. With 18 games left, he has nine.

“This one stings,” Shore said.

Since Ottawa has stripped itself down to the axles, and since the Kings have not won since Feb. 8, the Ducks will need considerable lottery luck to get a Top Two player. You can find greatness below that, of course, and the Ducks’ drafters have done that. And at least they are no longer playing as if nothing makes a difference.

But they remain a long way from finding a player, or two, who does.

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Crosby, Lundqvist lead Metropolitan to NHL All-Star victory

  • Central Division’s Devan Dubnyk, left, of the Minnesota Wild, defends against Metropolitan Division’s Mathew Barzal (13), of the New York Islanders, during the first half of the NHL hockey All-Star Game final in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • Metropolitan Division’s Claude Giroux, right, of the Philadelphia Flyers, scores a goal against Central Division’s Devan Dubnyk, of the Minnesota Wild, during the first half of the NHL hockey All-Star Game final in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

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  • Metropolitan Division’s Sidney Crosby, of the Pittsburgh Penguins, scores a goal past Central Division’s Devan Dubnyk, of the Minnesota Wild, during the first half of the NHL hockey All-Star Game final in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • Central Division’s Pekka Rinne, of the Nashville Predators, left, congratulates Metropolitan Division’s Seth Jones (3), of the Columbus Blue Jackets, after the Metropolitan Division won the NHL hockey All-Star Game final in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • Metropolitan Division’s Claude Giroux (28), of the Philadelphia Flyers, is congratulated by Mathew Barzal, center, of the New York Islanders, and Sidney Crosby, right, of the Pittsburgh Penguins, after scoring a goal against the Central Division during the first half of the NHL hockey All-Star Game final in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • Metropolitan Division’s Sidney Crosby, left, smiles next to Kris Letang, both of the Pittsburgh Penguins, during the first half of the NHL hockey All-Star Game final against the Central Division in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • Metropolitan Division’s Cam Atkinson, right, of the Columbus Blue Jackets, scores against Central Division’s Pekka Rinne, of the Nashville Predators, during the second half of the NHL hockey All-Star Game final in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. The Metropolitan Division won 10-5. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • Metropolitan Division’s Henrik Lundqvist, of the New York Rangers, defends the goal against the Central Division during the first half of the NHL hockey All-Star Game final in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • Metropolitan Division’s Braden Holtby, left, celebrates with John Carlson, both of the Washington Capitals, after their division defeated the Central Division in the NHL hockey All-Star Game final in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • Metropolitan Division’s Kris Letang, left, and Sidney Crosby, both of the Pittsburgh Penguins, celebrate after Letang scored against the Central Division during the first half of the NHL hockey All-Star Game final in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • Metropolitan Division’s Braden Holtby, left, of the Washington Capitals, defends against a shot by Central Division’s Patrick Kane, of the Chicago Blackhawks, during the second half of the NHL hockey All-Star Game final in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • Metropolitan Division’s Cam Atkinson, left, of the Columbus Blue Jackets, shoots next to Central Division’s Mikko Rantanen, of the Colorado Avalanche, to score a goal during the second half of the NHL hockey All-Star Game final in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. The Metropolitan Division won 10-5. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • Metropolitan Division’s Sidney Crosby, right, of the Pittsburgh Penguins, is congratulated by NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly after being named the Most Valuable Player of the NHL hockey All-Star Game in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. The Metropolitan Division defeated the Central Division 10-5 in the final. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • Metropolitan Division’s Sidney Crosby, center, of the Pittsburgh Penguins, celebrates with Cam Atkinson, of the Columbus Blue Jackets, after the Metropolitan Division defeated the Central Division 10-5 in the NHL hockey All-Star Game final in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • Metropolitan Division players pose for photos after defeating the Central Division in the NHL hockey All-Star Game final in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. The Metropolitan Division won 10-5. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • Central Division’s Devan Dubnyk, right, of the Minnesota Wild, defends on a shot by Pacific Division’s Joe Pavelski, of the San Jose Sharks, during an NHL hockey All-Star game semifinal in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • Metropolitan Division’s Mathew Barzal, foreground, of the New York Islanders, skates in front of Central Division’s Patrick Kane, of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Roman Josi, of the Nashville Predators, during the second half of the NHL hockey All-Star Game final in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • Metropolitan Division’s Seth Jones (3), of the Columbus Blue Jackets, scores a goal past Atlantic Division’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, right, of the Tampa Bay Lightning, during the first half of an NHL hockey All-Star Game semifinal in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

  • Metropolitan Division coach Todd Reirden, of the Washington Capitals, smiles during the second half of the NHL hockey All-Star Game final against the Central Division in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. The Metropolitan Division won 10-5. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • Metropolitan Division’s Sidney Crosby, of the Pittsburgh Penguins, shoots against Atlantic Division’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, of the Tampa Bay Lightning, during an NHL hockey All-Star semifinal in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Sidney Crosby now has one more reason to have good memories of the Shark Tank.

Crosby had two goals and three assists to win the All-Star MVP, and Henrik Lundqvist pitched a first-half shutout to lead the Metropolitan Division to a 10-5 victory over the Central Division in the championship round of the NHL All-Star game Saturday night.

Crosby finished the night with four goals and four assists in two games on the same ice where he won the Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup three years ago for Pittsburgh.

“I have some great memories here for sure,” he said. “It’s always been a tough place to play. Obviously, when you win in a rink and have those memories, it’s something you think about every time you go there. Being in that dressing room, it’s automatic to bring you back to some of those moments.”

The memories aren’t nearly as sweet for the Sharks fans, who booed Crosby when he won the award, joining Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Joe Sakic and Jean Beliveau as the only players to win the Conn Smyth, the Hart Trophy and All-Star MVP.

“It’s cool,” Crosby said. “You play and you watch as a kid growing up and you see that presentation so it’s pretty cool. I had a lot of fun today.”

Lundqvist stopped 11 of 13 shots in his two games to give the Metropolitan Division its second title in four years of the three-on-three All-Star format and the $1 million prize shared by the winners of the four-team divisional tournament.

Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders added two goals and three assists in the final game.

Mikko Rantanen had two goals and Colorado teammate Gabriel Landeskog added one for the Central. Landeskog finished with four goals and three assists, while Rantanen had four goals and two assists.

“There’s more pace obviously when it’s the final and there’s a million dollars on the line. A lot of guy were going a little bit harder but it’s good for the fans,” Rantanen said. “Just too bad that we were not that ready to play.”

Crosby assisted on Barzal’s goal against Devan Dubnyk just 22 seconds into the championship game and then made it 5-0 in the closing seconds of the first half off a pass from Barzal. Crosby also assisted on Pittsburgh teammate Kris Letang’s goal in the first half and then helped seal the game with a goal in the second half that made it 6-2.

Lundqvist made big saves against Landeskog and Claude Giroux in the period one night after winning the save streak competition in the skills challenge.

“It was good defense, good structure,” Lundqvist said. “That helps, especially three on three. Honestly, I thought we had pretty good structure, so much skill up front, so many goals. You don’t get surprised, you get impressed.”

The first time the All-Star game came to San Jose in 1997, hometown favorite Owen Nolan capped the night by calling his shot and pointing to the spot where he completed a hat trick that delighted the Shark Tank.

Sharks fans didn’t have as much to cheer for in the return, even though their three All-Stars started the night on the ice together for the Pacific. The Central blitzed the Pacific early for its first win in four years in this format, scoring seven goals on nine shots against John Gibson in the first half of the period in a 10-4 victory.

Gibson, who plays for the rival Anaheim Ducks, drew derisive chants from the fans who later called for Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury to take over.

“Anytime you play it’s a rivalry and the fans take it personally. That’s what makes it fun,” Gibson said. “You’re still at All-Star game and you’re out there with some of the best players in the league. Stuff’s going to happen.”

Landeskog had a hat trick and an assist and Roman Josi had three assists and a goal for the Central.

Pekka Rinne and Dubnyk combined to stop 23 of 27 shots with Dubnyk providing one of the biggest highlights with a glove save that robbed Connor McDavid on a breakaway.

The Metropolitan Division won the second semifinal 7-4 thanks to a tiebreaking goal by Letang with 3:38 to play. Sebastian Aho added an insurance goal seconds after Braden Holtby stopped John Tavares in close.

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Ducks reacquire Derek Grant, add Michael Del Zotto in separate trades

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Ducks general manager Bob Murray worked the late shift Wednesday night, re-acquiring Derek Grant from the Pittsburgh Penguins and adding Michael Del Zotto from the Vancouver Canucks in separate trades as he continued to alter the course of the struggling team.

Murray sent center Joseph Blandisi, 24, to the Penguins to get Grant, 28, who had a breakout season with the Ducks in 2017-18 before signing with the Penguins as a free agent last summer. Blandisi had been playing with the San Diego Gulls, the Ducks’ AHL team.

Grant, a well-traveled center, set career highs last season with the Ducks with 12 goals, 12 assists, 24 points and 66 games. He had two goals and five points in 25 games this season for the Penguins, who signed him to a one-season, $650,000 contract last July 19.

In addition, Murray acquired Del Zotto from the Canucks in exchange for defenseman Luke Schenn, 29, who also had been playing with the Gulls. Del Zotto, a 28-year-old defenseman, has played 589 games in the NHL with the Canucks, Rangers, Predators and Flyers.

The Ducks also sent a seventh-round pick in the 2020 draft to Vancouver.

Earlier in the evening, Murray sent left wing Pontus Aberg to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for center Justin Kloos, a 25-year-old prospect who scored 30 points in 34 games in the AHL this season.

On Monday, the Ducks traded iron man left wing Andrew Cogliano, 31, to the Dallas Stars in exchange for center Devin Shore, 24.

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GM Bob Murray says Ducks have to get faster to compete

ANAHEIM – Bob Murray sees where the NHL is going and where the Ducks are at within it – and where his coach fits with their need to adapt.

The Ducks have to get faster and Murray, who just wrapped up his 10th season as their general manager, saw their current level of team speed wasn’t nearly good enough in grim fashion in a four-game sweep by San Jose.

“We just played a team that was way faster than us,” Murray said Saturday, where the Ducks cleaned out their lockers at Honda Center earlier than they imagined. “And they played the game faster than us.”

And there is a large part of why their Stanley Cup run never got off the ground. With that established, Murray delved into how they will go about getting faster. Pure speed matters and the Ducks’ GM didn’t question that. But, in his mind, it’s about much more.

“Are Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski really fast skaters? Are they?” Murray asked, bringing up the Sharks’ stars. “I had one of them in Team Canada. No. They’re good hockey players. But if your team plays fast, you can make players faster. And that’s the first thing that has to be addressed around here.”

Very much in place as the organization’s top decision-maker when it comes to the on-ice product, Murray is sticking with Randy Carlyle as his coach. His confidence remains in him even with the franchise’s first failure to win a game in postseason play since 1999.

Hey, @AnaheimDucks we’ll see you this weekend at Coachella.

— LA Kings (@LAKings) April 19, 2018

Some of the confidence stems from the Ducks remaining in position to make a second-half push after surviving an unprecedented spate of injuries to many of their top players. The two, though, are to meet in the coming weeks to discuss how they must evolve to keep pace and not fall further behind.

“I have no issues with how he did,” Murray said. “I think it’s remarkable that we made the playoffs. But in making the playoffs, did we screw up some other things? That’s where I’m trying to get my head around. Sometimes it’s better to miss (the playoffs).

“I talked to (Florida GM Dale Tallon) this morning and he says look at you and look at me. My pick’s a lot better than yours right now. I said, ‘You’re bloody right it is.’ Those are the things that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. It’s just the way the game is. I’m confident in Randy.”

The early playoff exit chafed at Murray but it also served as a stamp about the stark reality they face. Worse yet, the stunning sweep didn’t blindside him. “It wasn’t as shocking to me as to a lot of other people, from reading things,” he said.

“As I said during the year, I didn’t really think our team play was that great this year,” Murray continued. “What are the reasons for that? Well, obviously we were in survival mode for half the year. We got the rest of the guys back and we were trying to make the playoffs. So there were a lot of things with our team play that were just not good enough.

“Good goaltending tends to cover up a lot of crap. And it did a good job of that.”

Carlyle contends some changes have taken place to adjust to higher tempo that teams are playing at. “It’s almost Pong at times, where the puck comes back and it’s just thrown out and people are trying to get underneath the puck out off the boards,” he said.

“I’ve think we’ve asked, and we’ve stressed, some of the things that happened against us are the things that we had to try to do, and we know that,” Carlyle added. “There’s a template that teams are playing and the things they are doing are the things we’re trying to get our group to do, and we didn’t do it on a consistent enough basis.”

Their system and emphasis on being heavy will come under the microscope and Murray bluntly said “we have some things we have to fix.” He pointed to his distaste for defensemen passing the puck to each other and back before heading up ice to get the puck to forwards, who were often too stationary.

Too much work to get the puck out of their own end occurred and allowed opposing teams to forecheck them into turning it over. It appears Carlyle – who has another year left on his contract along with a team option for 2019-20 – will be entrusted with making those changes.

Anaheim Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle walks off the ice after the second period of Game 4 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday, April 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Anaheim Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle walks off the ice after the second period of Game 4 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday, April 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

“I think he knows,” Murray said. “We had enough talks late in the year. We knew where we were halfway through the year and we knew we couldn’t do certain things this year. And that’s just because of the situation we were in.

“I know he definitely knows some things have to change. Hopefully I can give him a healthy hockey team to start the year to see if they will change.”

Murray doesn’t see any players needing surgeries like last summer. There is a greater belief that winger Patrick Eaves will get back on the ice next season. He revealed that Eaves underwent shoulder surgery in March to fix a torn labrum suffered while doing rehab work. Eaves’s potential timetable is October.

Eaves played in two games before being diagnosed with  Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder where his immune system was attacking the peripheral nervous system. “He’s ahead of schedule now but that means nothing, it’s so early in it,” Murray said.

The roster is expected to skew more toward youth. They’re expected to jettison older free agents such as Kevin Bieksa, Antoine Vermette, Jason Chimera and Chris Kelly. Murray did rave the work of fourth-line center Derek Grant and would like to re-sign him.

Bieksa played with a torn tendon in his finger that was suffered during his fight with Philadelphia’s Radko Gudas in October and said he opted to put off surgery until March because the recovery period would have taken months instead of weeks.

But the veteran defenseman also felt the March procedure made it easier for Carlyle to play youngster Andy Welinski in three of the four games against San Jose. His dissatisfaction was thinly veiled.

“It kept me out of a lot of games down the stretch, which I’m sure factored in to the decision not to play me as much in the playoffs,” Bieksa said. “Which is very disappointing. And didn’t turn out to be a good-looking decision. But you have to accept those sometimes.”

A few Ducks will continue playing hockey. Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell will play for Sweden in the upcoming IIHF World Championships next month, while Korbinian Holzer will participate for Germany.

Murray said Montour and Kase were asked by Canada and the Czech Republic but will not participate given their uncertain contract status. Jakob Silfverberg will not play for Sweden as the winger and his wife, Clara, are expecting their first child.

Others will be left to try to put a wholly disappointing end to a season full of adversity behind them. The shock of a swift exit after pushing to make the playoffs and gain home-ice advantage is only starting to wear off.

“It’s kind of a numbness that’s subsiding now,” Carlyle said.

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