LOS ANGELES – The side of Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson’s mask this season depicts an insane asylum, which couldn't be further removed from the temperament of the 20 year old that wears it.
“One of the more laidback guys I’ve ever met, for sure,” said forward Devante Smith-Pelly, as Gibson backstopped the Ducks to a 2-0 Game 4 win at Staples Center, in his first playoff start and fourth career NHL game. “You’d think there’d be some nerves, but he just went out there and played his game.”
Anaheim tied their series with the Los Angeles Kings at 2-2.
The start was a stunner for the Ducks, as Gibson was recalled from AHL Norfolk after another rookie goalie, Fredrick Andersen, was injured in Game 3. Jonas Hiller, the team’s veteran netminder, entered and won the game, but that wasn’t enough to get him the crease for Game 4.
“I maybe wrong 99 out of 100 times, but I think this is the lineup that can win,” said Coach Bruce Boudreau.
Boudreau had made this gamble before back in 2009, when he replaced starter Jose Theodore with rookie Semyon Varlamov in Game 2 of the Washington Capitals’ series with the New York Rangers. The Caps would win that series, on the strength of two shutouts by Varlamov, before falling in the conference semifinals to Pittsburgh.
“Their adrenaline is so high,” said Boudreau of rookies in the playoffs. “He might come back down to earth in a few weeks, but I knew he would be good tonight.”
Or as Corey Perry put it: “Young kids don’t know any better. They come in and they play the way they’re told to play.”
Boudreau said he considered giving Gibson the crease to start the playoffs, based on who well he played in a critical late season game against San Jose.
“We didn’t know what we were going to do. Quite frankly, the San Jose game to me, which was for first place in the division and really important, he came in as cool as a cucumber. We thought at that point that we could start him. I didn’t really want to jump the gun because these two guys had been with us the whole year and done a great job,” said Boudreau. “The confidence I have in this young man is great. I knew he was going to do a good job.”
Gibson was solid for the Ducks in his debut, making 28 saves for the shutout. He controlled rebounds and made several strong stops with the Kings turned on their offense in the second and parts of the third period.
“They played really well, especially in the third period,” said Gibson.
He outplayed Jonathan Quick, who was pulled after the first period after giving up two goals. When Corey Perry found Smith-Pelly in the first period for a goal, that was all the offensive he’d need. The Ducks played well with the lead, and part of that was knowing Gibson wouldn’t be shaken.
“Guys are pretty confident in him,” said forward Andrew Cogliano. “I’ve never seen a goalie like him, really. He’s really calm. Before the game it looked like he was getting ready for a pre-season game. You get a little scared when you’re looking at him preparing (laughs). And then he goes out and plays like that. I haven’t scored a goal yet on him in practice. Not that I have an unbelievable shot. But he’s a different goalie."
Although not that different from the Conn Smythe winner across the ice, according to Cogliano.
"He plays a lot like Quick. He takes angles away, and he’s very confident. He’s got a little swagger to him," he said.
"Yeah, he’s going to be good.”
Does this begin the John Gibson Era for the Ducks?
“I don’t even know if I’m going to play the next game,” he said, cracking a small grin.