ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — When playoff pressure is at its most intense, almost nobody in recent hockey history has handled it better than Justin Williams, Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings.
After claiming Southern California supremacy with another Game 7 victory, the Kings are headed to their third straight Western Conference finals with their eyes on another Stanley Cup title.
Williams, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards scored in an overwhelming first period, and Los Angeles beat the Anaheim Ducks 6-2 on Friday night to earn a conference finals rematch with the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik and Tanner Pearson also scored as Los Angeles won its second Game 7 of the spring – two celebratory blowouts of the Kings’ two California rivals.
Chicago eliminated Los Angeles in five games last year, but the Kings are ready to go long again if necessary.
“We have shown that we’re able to get it done,” said Williams who has six goals and six assists in six career Game 7s. “At the same time, we might have two more to play this year. We are moving on, and we’re happy, but we know it’s just halfway there.”
Game 1 is Sunday in Chicago.
After two weeks of back-and-forth hockey and close games in the local rivals’ first postseason series, the Kings concluded the Freeway Faceoff with a no-doubter. Los Angeles chased overmatched rookie goalie John Gibson, held Ryan Getzlaf to one assist and silenced the Honda Center – except for those Kings fans chanting “This is our house!”
Los Angeles has won eight playoff series in the last three seasons, but the next step is a doozy. Chicago rolled through St. Louis and Minnesota in defense of its title, while the Kings have played two straight seven-game series, winning six consecutive elimination games.
“It’s the playoffs,” Williams said. “If you play seven every round, you don’t get much rest. To advance, you’ve got to beat the best, and Chicago is the best right now. We’re going to get out there and try to go to work.”
The NHL’s best defensive team surprisingly scored four goals in the first 22:02 against Anaheim, starting with the sixth goal in six career Game 7s for Williams, who averages two points per game in seventh games.
“I’m proud of my numbers in Game 7, but the one I’m most proud of is 6-0,” Williams said.
The Kings provided ample cushion for Quick, who has never lost a Game 7. He underlined his status as the most bankable big-game goalie in the NHL with 25 saves, even stopping a penalty shot by 43-goal scorer Corey Perry.
Gaborik scored six goals in the series’ four games in Anaheim, giving him an NHL-best nine goals in his first postseason with the Kings. Gaborik, Williams and Richards are unbeaten in six career trips to Game 7, while Carter improved to 4-0.
“We’re built for the playoffs, for sure,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. “We struggled during the regular season. I don’t know the reason why, but we’re always ready for when it really counts.”
The 2012 Stanley Cup champions led 5-0 late in the second period in Anaheim, never allowing the Ducks to get going in their own building.
While the Kings triumphed, the Ducks learned how much they’ve still got to learn while losing a Game 7 at home for the second straight year.
“Really tough emotions right now,” said Getzlaf, who scored one goal in the series. “They came out and played the way they can play. They know what they’re doing in these situations.”
The defeat likely ended the career of 43-year-old Teemu Selanne, who intends to retire. Both teams paid tribute to the Finnish Flash after he took the final shift, eventually waving a melancholy goodbye to his Anaheim fans.
“It’s got to be a lot of happiness later, but it is hard right now,” Selanne said. “It was going to be ending in a great celebration or a big disappointment, and we didn’t get the win.”
The 20-year-old Gibson gave up four goals on 18 shots before getting pulled for Jonas Hiller, the dependable veteran benched twice by Boudreau in the season’s final weeks. Boudreau dropped to 1-5 in his six career trips to Game 7s with Washington and Anaheim, losing all five times at home.
“The first period was like men against boys, quite frankly,” Boudreau said. “They were bigger, stronger, more determined. Everything we said we didn’t want to do, we did.”