ANAHEIM — Suddenly, a garden-variety rivalry game between the Kings and the Ducks morphed into another entity on Friday night at Honda Center.
Freeway Fight Night.
The Kings’ third straight win since coming out of the All-Star break – a 6-3 victory over the last-place Ducks – was overshadowed by a wild turn of events in the final minute of the second period, which resulted in Kings goaltender Pheonix Copley getting ejected from the game. Leading the Kings was Viktor Arvidsson’s two-goal performance and their potent power play, which went 3 for 4.
“I thought it was a tough game to play, a tough game to win,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “Competitive. Had to be patient. Penalties. Special-team situation. Losing a starting goaltender. A lot of variables went into the night.
“At this time of the year, the win is the most important.”
Back to Copley.
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Copley received a two-minute minor for leaving the crease and a match penalty for a blocker punch during the second-period melee, angered by the Ducks’ Frank Vatrano. The usually mellow Copley looked ready to take on all comers – his fire even surprising his teammates – and there looked to be one eager combatant.
Ducks goalie John Gibson.
Gibson skated to center ice and smacked his stick twice, signaling his willingness. But referee Steve Kozari contained Copley and one of the linesmen swiftly skated over to Gibson, stopping a potential goalie fight and keeping them separated.
“I was hoping the linesman would just let them go,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. “I would have loved to see that. But Copper’s been playing awesome for us. We don’t need him getting injured.”
The prospect of a Gibson-Copley fight was probably the one thing that the Kings and Ducks players could find common ground on.
“I’m sure everyone in the building would have wanted to see that,” Vatrano said. “Sometimes the refs don’t let you go.”
Vatrano said the incident started when he stood up for teammate Trevor Zegras.
“He (Copley) starts the whole thing at the TV timeout, pushing Zegras,” Vatrano said. “So I let him know I was there. That was pretty much it. … A couple of blockers to the face won’t hurt you. He got kicked out. I was still playing.”
At the time of Copley’s ejection, the Kings were leading 3-1 on goals by Blake Lizotte, Arvidsson and Adrian Kempe, who has scored eight goals in his past four games.
“That was good – I would have done the same as he did,” Arvidsson said of Copley. “They were in his crease punching him, giving him hits. It was nice to see him stand up for himself. We tried to do our best to stand up for him. It was good character by our team.”
Ducks coach Dallas Eakins praised Gibson for attempting to take on Copley, saying: “Frank’s on the ice. He’s already got one of the Kings on him and the other goalie (Copley) is on top, blasting him with his blocker. Then blasting him with his fist. I’ve got no problem with that (Gibson) at all. The one thing our guys have done is they have stuck together. They’ve been resilient. I would expect nothing less than Gibby coming on up there.”
After Copley’s ejection, goalie Jonathan Quick played the final 23 seconds of the second period and the third, allowing two goals in the third period, to Ducks rookie Mason McTavish and Vatrano. McTavish scored during a five-minute power play that followed Copley’s ejection, shaving the Kings’ lead to 3-2 at the 2:28 mark. It was McTavish’s 12th goal of the season.
The Kings went back ahead by two goals – boosting their lead to 4-2 – on Anze Kopitar’s goal, just 14 seconds into a power play after Ducks forward Derek Grant had gone off at 9:30 for a faceoff violation.
Vatrano pulled the Ducks within one again with an opportunistic sequence, converting his third attempt, at 13:10. For Vatrano, it was his 14th goal of the season and 28th point. The Kings, who scored three times in the third period, wrapped it up with goals from Arvidsson and Kevin Fiala’s empty-netter with 1:13 remaining.
The return of Gabe Vilardi boosted the Kings’ bottom six and their first power-play unit. Vilardi had been out of the lineup with an upper-body injury since Jan. 14. Defenseman Tobias Bjornfot and forwards Brendan Lemieux and Jaret Anderson-Dolan were the scratches against the Ducks. Anderson-Dolan, who has 11 points in 40 games, has been a useful depth player this season.
As for the Ducks, their scratches were injured goaltender Anthony Stolarz and forward Max Comtois. Comtois has been a healthy scratch the past three games. Earlier in the day, Eakins was asked what Comtois had to do to get back in the lineup.
“Work,” Eakins said, bluntly. “The one thing that we’re desperately trying to continue here is a work ethic at practice. A work ethic even if it’s a morning skate and a work ethic in the game. And the one thing I will not allow to happen here is for that to fall off. When that happens, we’ll see him again.”