The coach’s words steered attention one way. The goalies’ post-skate expressions conveyed something else.
Whether 20-year-old rookie John Gibson or veteran Jonas Hiller will start in goal Saturday night for the Ducks in Game 4 of the Western Conference playoff series is a truth known only to a few. Anaheim trails the Kings, two games to one, in the best-of-seven series.
Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau cleared up the first mystery during his team’s morning skate at Staples Center in advance of Saturday's 6:30 p.m. game by announcing that injured Game 3 starter Frederik Andersen was not able to skate.
“With him not having the possibility of playing, he’s not skating,” Boudreau said.
The coach then spoke as if Gibson was not his choice to start Game 4 after being asked how tempted he was to insert the NHL’s prized No. 2 overall prospect, who was 3-0 in April with the Ducks, including a shutout in his NHL debut and the victory that clinched the Pacific Division title for Anaheim.
“I don’t know if it’s tempting … he’s a good goalie and in the future he’ll be a tremendous goalie,” Boudreau said. “I don’t know if he’s today’s goalie.”
Hiller, who got the Game 3 win Thursday by stopping seven of eight shots after Andersen suffered a lower-body injury midway through the third period, was first off the ice Saturday morning.
Typically, that indicates which goalie is starting, but that could also be gamesmanship, as it was with Boudreau on Thursday when Hiller left the ice first in the morning and Andersen started.
Speculation that Boudreau was up to old tricks cameup in the dressing room, where Hiller possessed a mostly dour facial expression while Gibson had the smile and bounce of someone perhaps anticipating his playoff debut.
The Ducks didn’t allow either goalie to speak to reporters.
While Hiller possesses far more experience — 326 regular-season games and 25 in the playoffs to Gibson’s three and zero — the thinking favoring Gibson is his poise, superb reaction time and and how committed to defense the Ducks were in his April 7 debut in Vancouver.
“Yeah, but, the opposition was a little different, too, a team that wasn’t really playing well at the time,” Boudreau said. “The feedback the next day was they had no pushback. We played good, but was it because we weren’t getting that [pushback]? We definitely weren’t playing the Los Angeles Kings.”
Both players were hurt in Game 3.
Perreault, with two goals and two assists in the postseason, said he felt that tug of
being needed, considering the magnitude of the game.
“I won’t go out there if I can’t help the team,” he said, saying he would confer with
trainers in the afternoon.
Ducks rookie center Rickard Rakell said his own playing status was contingent upon Perreault’s.
The other first-line possibility, forward Patrick Maroon, was asked where he’ll be, and cracked, “Right over there,” pointing to his locker stall and grinning slightly.
Winnik hasn’t played since April 27. He doesn’t have a postseason point but is a defensive asset.
“Just been sitting and waiting, it’s that time,” Winnik said. “Breathe a bit, relax, not be uptight. I’ve been in the situation where I haven’t played before and get a little tight with the puck and tend to chip it a lot more than you should.”
Odds are Winnik enters the fire of being matched against the Kings’ potent line of Marian Gaborik-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown. Kopitar leads the NHL with 15 postseason points, and Gaborik has three goals in the series.
“It’s the role I’ve had for the last couple of years; I enjoy it, it’s a challenge every night to shut those types of guys down,” Winnik said. “Plus we need to win. Last game was the biggest, now this is the biggest game of the year.”