Southern California hockey fans waited 20 years for their dream playoff matchup, so it seems only fitting that the series will go to Game 7.
Winger Trevor Lewis and defenseman Jake Muzzin scored goals, goaltender Jonathan Quick made 21 saves, and the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 Wednesday to even the Western Conference semifinal series at three games apiece.
Game 7 will be played Friday at Anaheim's Honda Center.
The Kings will be navigating familiar territory, a road Game 7, the same challenge they faced in their first-round series against San Jose. Los Angeles rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to beat the Sharks and advance to the matchup against the Ducks.
"This Game 7 is probably harder than the last one," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "We'll be a big underdog going against the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference."
The Kings have been a team of streaks throughout the playoffs, losing three straight, winning six in a row, then dropping three before Wednesday's victory. They will need to earn a third road win in the series if they are to advance to face the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday.
"Game 7s are always exciting, but they are the hardest game," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "I think we can still play better hockey. We've done it before."
The Ducks face a Game 7 at Honda Center for a second consecutive season. As the West's second seed last year, the Ducks lost the deciding game in the first round against the seventh-seeded Detroit Red Wings.
Anaheim, the Pacific Division's regular-season champion, faces the prospect of being eliminated again at home by a lower-seeded team. The Kings are battle-tested, and they are just two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup.
"They've been in this situation before," Ducks right winger Kyle Palmieri said of the Kings. "Their goalie made some big saves, and we are going to have to give a full 60 minutes' effort on Friday."
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau expects a better effort from his squad in the winner-take-all game.
"I think what it's going to take is someone getting a lucky bounce and holding on to the lead," Boudreau said. "There can be no passengers in the next game."
The Kings rode to the top Wednesday thanks to defenseman Jake Muzzin's third goal of the playoffs at 8:18 of the first period.
Muzzin, breaking down the slot, took a backhand pass from Kopitar and shoveled the puck past Anaheim goaltender John Gibson. Winger Marian Gaborik drew the secondary assist. It was the first time since Game 2 that Los Angeles opened the scoring.
The Kings doubled the lead on Lewis' fourth goal of the playoffs at 14:04 of the middle period. Lewis took what appeared to be a harmless wrist shot on a one-on-two rush from 40 feet out, but the puck trickled thru Gibson's pads and into the net.
The Ducks narrowed the margin to one on Palmieri's second goal at 15:42 of the second period. Kings winger Tanner Pearson turned over the puck at his own blue line, and Ducks center Nick Bonino fed Palmieri, who sped around the Los Angeles cage and beat Quick with a wraparound shot.
Up 2-1 entering the third period, the Kings had an opportunity to regain a two-goal margin six minutes in, but center Jeff Carter's wrist shot off a two-on-one break hit the post to the left of Gibson and bounced to the corner.
The Ducks had an opportunity to even the game on a power play with less than seven minutes to go, but Quick made a glove save on a wrist shot by defenseman Cam Fowler.
Gibson stopped 21 shots while suffering his first loss of the playoffs.
NOTES: With his 2-0 shutout in Game 4, Anaheim's John Gibson became the second goaltender in NHL history to record a shutout in his first regular-season and playoff game. Boston's Tiny Thompson achieved the feat in November 1928 and March 1929. ... Anaheim did not dress D Luca Sbisa, RW Tim Jackman, D Stephane Robidas, D Mark Fistric, LW Matt Beleskey, RW Rickard Rakell, G Frederik Andersen and G Igor Bobkov. ... The Ducks entered the game on a four-game winning streak at Staples Center. They won the two regular-season contests in Los Angeles as well as Games 3 and 4 of the Pacific Division finals. Anaheim also won a Kings "home" game, the Stadium Series clash at Dodger Stadium on Jan. 26. ... Los Angeles scratched regulars C Colin Fraser, D Willie Mitchell, D Robyn Regehr and C Jordan Nolan along with 12 "Black Aces," players recalled from Manchester after the Kings' AHL affiliate was eliminated from the postseason.