ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The Anaheim Ducks acquired Ryan Kesler last summer specifically to make them better against the Los Angeles Kings and the other Western Conference powers with dominant centers.
About eight months later, Kesler ended the regular-season Freeway Faceoff series with a goal that showed just how right they were about him.
Kesler scored 45 seconds into overtime, and the Ducks rallied from another third-period deficit for a 3-2 victory Wednesday night in the Southern California rivals’ final meeting before the postseason.
After Justin Williams scored the Kings’ tying goal with 4:18 left, Kesler ended it when he was left untouched by Los Angeles’ defense. He fired a hard shot past Quick for his 200th NHL goal, including 18 in his first season in Anaheim.
“Obviously, you hear about why you’re brought here,” said Kesler, who racked up five goals and two assists against the Kings while Anaheim won four of five in the rivalry this season. “I mean, it’s a team game, but you want to play your best. You want to make them happy that they brought you here.”
John Gibson made 29 saves as Anaheim took sole possession of the overall NHL lead with 97 points after rallying for its league-best 12th comeback victory when trailing after two periods this season.
“Kesler has been a dominant player, for sure, in these five games against us,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter, whose club is among the NHL’s strongest down the middle with Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar at center.
“(In) this conference, you need the big centermen,” Sutter added. “But I think that Kopi and Jeff played really well tonight, too. I think Kopi has had a really good five games against Anaheim this year, and Jeff has had a lot of good opportunities and scores a power-play (goal).”
Carter scored his 25th goal on a first-period power play for the Kings, who have earned points in seven of eight games down the stretch. Williams’ goal salvaged a point for the defending Stanley Cup champions, giving them sole possession of third place in the Pacific Division.
Los Angeles led 1-0 entering the third before Patrick Maroon and Jakob Silfverberg scored for the Ducks.
“In the last two games in this building, we’ve given up third-period leads,” Williams said. “Come playoff time, it’s asking for elimination. It’s something we have to look at and shut those guys down.”
All five victories in this season’s Freeway Faceoff were comeback wins, and the matchup could extend to the postseason for the second straight year if the Kings end up in a wild-card spot. While the Ducks are cruising toward their third straight Pacific Division title, the Kings have spent a month fighting for a position.
“It’s always a test playing with them, whether it’s a preseason game or a playoff game,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They play with great structure and effort, so it’s really difficult to play against them. But I think our team is competing pretty well right now, so it makes for a good test.”
Jonathan Quick stopped 23 shots as the Kings improved their hold on a playoff spot despite losing another hard-fought matchup with their local rivals.
Carter opened the scoring on a power play created by Kings captain Dustin Brown, who leveled Anaheim star Corey Perry at mid-ice with the type of hard shoulder check that’s typical in this series.
The hit set off a melee that ended with an extra minor penalty for the retaliating Ducks, and Carter capitalized with a booming shot on Kopitar’s drop pass. Carter has 25 goals for the seventh time in his 10-season NHL career.
After Maroon and Silfverberg put the Ducks ahead, Williams tied it when he slipped in front of Gibson and buried a pass from Jake Muzzin for his 18th goal.
NOTES: Anaheim improved to 28-1-7 in one-goal games. … Ducks D Sami Vatanen missed his 15th straight game with a lower-body injury, but is close to a return. … Tomas Fleischmann returned to Anaheim’s lineup after sitting out last weekend as a healthy scratch. He replaced Jiri Sekac, who was a healthy scratch for the first time since arriving in a trade with Montreal. … Kings D Alec Martinez missed his 18th straight game with an apparent concussion, although Los Angeles’ playoff hero is skating daily. C Jarret Stoll also missed his second straight game.
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