A sense of déjà vu permeated the Kings’ comeback win over the Maple Leafs on Thursday night. Anze Kopitar banking a puck of Nikita Zaitsev’s head to get Los Angeles on the scoreboard? Been there, done that. Ask Kevin Klein, who shouldered in Kopitar’s six-on-five hat trick goal at Madison Square Garden last year. The reaction from Jeff Carter? There were shades of Matt Greene’s reaction to his goal scored against Florida two seasons ago. More importantly, any nostalgia or familiarity stemmed from Jonathan Quick’s sturdy return following a 59-game absence. Clearly a central figure in Los Angeles’ ability to claim five of a possible six points in his starts, Quick made several game-saving stops over the second half of the game, with the most pivotal coming on his second period denial of Tyler Bozak with the Maple Leafs leading 2-0. Toronto’s power play entered the night leading the league in power play percentage, and Quick’s sliding pad save on Bozak following Nazem Kadri’s low-slot feed set the stage for L.A. to get back in the game as the home team used all of 117 seconds to equalize at the start of the third period. Also credit several members of the defense who effectively defended the rush against several quality Maple Leaf chances. In the second period, that was Alec Martinez using a Drew Doughty-like dive to break up a two-on-one, and in overtime it was Doughty who dove and used his skate to disrupt an odd-man attack that very well could have ended the game and sent the Kings home with only one point.
Let’s not forget, though, that for 40 minutes this was not – how should this be said – the most compelling hockey game. That’s not particularly important, because hockey games aren’t decided by style points, and Los Angeles’ possession game and boards play doesn’t always elicit dazzling exhibitions of skill and wonder; still, over a 14:43 span bridging the first and second periods, the only Kings shot on goal was a Kyle Clifford slapshot from more than 50 feet out. But Los Angeles ultimately wore down Toronto and emerged as the stronger third period team, even if play opened up a little bit over the final 10 minutes of the game. It was a very different set of circumstances for a promising Leafs club when compared to their prior meeting. Entering the Election Night game at Air Canada Centre, the Leafs had won three in a row and as a young team may have noticed a press clipping or two written about them early in the season as the hype train was gathering steam. The Kings went out and waxed them, chasing Frederik Andersen and making life difficult for Jhonas Enroth, who appeared in relief. Thursday’s game was obviously going to follow a different script as a pair of desperate teams badly needed points in a late season game, and while the drama over the first two acts was lacking, the third period, overtime and shootout raised the sheer entertainment value, for whatever that’s worth.
For natives of Los Angeles (and those from points elsewhere), how bizarre is it to know that next year, there will be no Vin Scully, no Chick Hearn, and no Bob Miller gracing Southern California airwaves? What a privilege it is to have been born in the second half of the 20th century in a city where the Dodgers, Lakers and Kings have all had championship moments narrated by three of the greatest artists in sports broadcasting history. As opposed to baseball, hockey is such a fast sport that affords so little time for contemplation during play, and Bob Miller, through 44 years of service, has spoken with both sharp honestly and giddy excitement about a team that until recently had only in the rarest moments neared its zenith. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Bob. Thank you for being the soundtrack of our childhoods. Thank you for your storytelling and willing us all into becoming hockey fans through your ability to make us feel like we were your friend long before any of us had ever met you in person. There has been no greater ambassador for hockey in Southern California, and no other broadcaster in the sport has exuded such class and enjoyment in his calls, even during the Kings’ many, many lean years. All of this came off so well during Thursday’s press conference. Thank you, Bob, and thank you, Judy.