ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It was late in the second period and the chants began.
"Let's Go Ducks" was followed in rhythm by "Go Kings Go" and on and on it went for a few minutes, local hockey fans playing out their ultimate fantasy after 20 years of waiting.
Southern California finally has its playoff series, and Game 1 did not disappoint. In fact, it might have raised the bar.
"It was awesome," Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said following a thrilling 3-2 OT win. "It's what you expect. The building was great. It was a physical game and I think the crowd really responded to that. Going to be a good series, I hope."
Hey, if Darryl Sutter is excited, you know it was great.
Then again, he had another reason to be smiling. The no-quit Kings did it yet again Saturday night, erasing a 2-1 Ducks lead with seven seconds to go and then winning in overtime 12:07 into the extra session, Marian Gaborik authoring both clutch goals. And this after losing defenseman Robyn Regehr to injury midway through the opening period.
After the Kings erased a 3-0 series deficit to the San Jose Sharks last round, absolutely nobody should have been surprised they found a way again Saturday.
"I think we showed in the last series our team doesn't give up," said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who played a game-high 33:06. "We're a very resilient team. We never once believed that we were going to lose that game. And even with a minute left and the timeouts were called, we really believed that we were going to get that goal. Maybe it was a lucky goal or whatnot, but it doesn't matter how it went in. It went in. And then we took it over in overtime."
Well, not quite. It was Anaheim that came out roaring in overtime, Corey Perry missing an incredible chance when his shot at an open cage was stopped by a sliding Alec Martinez. A kick save and a beauty.
The Ducks pressured early and often but couldn't get the winner. So, you knew what you happen next, the hockey gods always punishing you for not converting early chances.
The Kings got theirs, Jeff Carter starting the play on the forecheck by forcing a turnover, the puck got to Doughty, who pinched in on the sideboards and made an all-world play in traffic to get a quick backhand out to Anze Kopitar in the slot. Kopitar, having a Conn Smythe Trophy spring so far, then found Gaborik for the tip-in winner.
"I knew Kopy was in that slot, we had a mini 4-on-2, I was kind of lucky because I thought he might go back and cover my spot for me, but he stayed right where I wanted him to, and I just sent the puck in an area and it got to him,'' said Doughty.
Kopitar and Gaborik put up three points each, continuing to evolve their impressive chemistry.
"When you play [Gaborik] and Kopy together, they're like this dynamic duo," said Doughty. "When they're both on their games, it's hard to stop them."
Kings GM Dean Lombardi deserves props; his March 5 deadline acquisition of Gaborik wasn't exactly met with great fanfare around hockey circles. Many an observer (including this one) felt adding Gaborik was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, an east-west skater joining a north-south type of squad. But the Mad Professor knew better, Lombardi feeling that Gaborik would react well to joining a championship dressing room and that it would bring out the best in the pending UFA winger. Not to mention some skill and top-six speed to a team that needed both.
After falling out of favor in New York and Columbus, Gaborik is rehabilitating his reputation with a strong postseason.
"I'm glad to be here, of course," Gaborik said after the thrilling win. "This team, with the system we have, is working for us so far. It has been the same since they won the Cup. This team has been a contender for the past few years and I'm just trying to be part of it. You have to keep playing."
Gaborik also had a nifty assist on the opening goal, his backhand pass in front finding Martinez on a power play 9:04 into the first period. Make it eight points (5-3) in eight playoff games for Gaborik.
"He played really good the first round, too," said Sutter. "He scored three goals. He had a lot of good opportunities in the first round. Quite honest, he was a big reason we won the first round."
On this night, the Kopitar-Gaborik line (joined by Carter midway through the third period) got the upper hand on Ryan Getzlaf's top unit with Corey Perry and Matt Beleskey, although not by much. Getzlaf set up Beleskey for the Ducks' opening goal and the top line was a force all night. But at the end of the night, Kopitar's line got the last word, and that's going to be the key matchup all series long: Selke Trophy finalist versus Hart Trophy finalist.
"Statistically, it was fairly even," Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau said of the Getzlaf-Kopitar battle. "He had a power-play assist extra, but in the end, they scored with seven seconds left and [Kopitar] was instrumental, and they scored in overtime after we missed our chance -- Corey Perry had the net wide open. He scores, and it's a different outcome.
"But it's like calling the difference between a rut and a groove, on those two lines. But I guess we came out on the bottom end of that exchange today -- mainly because they won."
For the Ducks, it's a tough result for a team that carried the play for long stretches, especially in the second period. But if you're up 2-1 with seconds left on a fellow Cup contender, you need to close it out.
"Well, you know, you get scored on with seven seconds to go, it's a tough one to swallow," said Boudreau. "I think this is what all the games are going to be like. We had opportunities to win the game, we didn't covert, they converted when they had to.
"If you don't look at the result of the game, and you look at the 54 hits and a lot of zone time, you're going to feel good about it. We did a lot of good things, but we ended up with the loss, so it doesn't really matter. We've got to do better."
For Boudreau and the Ducks, this loss stung. For everyone else at the Honda Center on Saturday night, it was something else to behold. Southern California's rivalry finally had a playoff game, a playoff feel, a playoff party.
"That was the loudest that I've ever heard it at game time," said Doughty, who before the anthem was looking around the stands at the mix of Ducks and Kings sweaters. "Actually, the Kings fans were great, you could hear them chanting 'Go Kings Go,'" added Doughty. "In a visiting team's barn, I'm sure the other team doesn't like to hear that too much. We'll take it. It was great for California."