ANAHEIM, Calif. -- While pondering during the season how it would all play out between California's three excellent squads, there was an unmistakable conclusion that just about everyone with sound judgment would arrive at.
It's why the Kings came back to beat the Sharks in the opening round, and it's why the 2012 Stanley Cup champs bused home Monday night with two Honda Center victories in their back pocket. The Ducks outshot the Kings 37-17 in Game 2 but beat the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner only once.
"We found a way to squeak one out because we have the best goalie in the world in our goal," Kings captain Dustin Brown said after the 3-1 victory. "They had the better chances, more shots, more opportunities. Jonathan Quick just finds ways to make saves. They were all over us, especially in the second, and we found a way to win because of Jonathan Quick."
Added a man who rarely dishes out individual praise: "The best player on the ice tonight was the goaltender for the Kings,'' said L.A. coach Darryl Sutter.
Sutter's counterpart, Bruce Boudreau, while acknowledging the part Quick is already playing in this series, also saw what many of us did Monday night. While the Ducks did launch 37 shots at the star goalie, they didn't have enough second-wave opportunities. Too many one-and-dones, too much perimeter play despite the shot advantage.
"He was pretty good tonight, but if you don't get traffic in front of him and you don't go to the net, you're not going to score," said the Anaheim coach. "If he can see everything, he's going to stop it. ...
"There was no second chances," Boudreau later added. "They blocked out, and we didn't get to the front of the net to get the rebounds, to get the dirty, greasy goals, which is what we got all year. If we continue to play the perimeter, we're not going to have success against him."
Quick swallowed up pucks, which is part of the reason there weren't many second chances. The other part is that the Kings' defense corps boxed out awfully well again.
And that's certainly saying something about a group missing both Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr, a pair of valuable left-handed veterans. Matt Greene has been in for Mitchell since Game 7 of the first round, and Jeff Schultz, the former Washington Capital who spent the season in the AHL, stepped in Monday night and looked just fine, thank you. He certainly wasn't eased in, either, playing 19:58 minutes on the second pairing with Slava Voynov, which also included 2:24 of penalty-kill time.
"We talked about it yesterday, too: You don't want to split guys up, move guys around," Sutter said of pairing Schultz with Voynoz and keeping his other two pairs intact. "Jeff Schultz can play well in his own zone, he can move pucks and play well in his own zone. That's exactly what he did."
Sutter also didn't overburden superstar blueliner Drew Doughty, who played 26:25, pretty much his normal fare. Sutter said after a grueling seven-game series versus San Jose and then two games in three days at Honda Center to open this round, he felt it important to try to play four lines and three defense pairs Monday night, spreading the minutes as much as possible.
By taking a 1-0 lead 34 seconds into the game on Marian Gaborik's breakaway goal and then a 2-1 lead at 12:07of the first period on Alec Martinez's goal, the Kings were able to play with a lead most of the night, which allowed that kind of rotation with his lines.
Now comes two off days before Game 3 at Staples Center on Thursday night. It's a chance to rest for the Kings, winners of six straight.
"We have to manage it properly," said Sutter. "You're going to win, you're going to lose, it could easily be 1-1, but you're going to handle the two days [off] the same. We're going to do everything we can to get as much energy we can for Game 3. Some guys are banged up. An extra day is good."
Doughty, for one, can surely use the rest. He got slashed behind the knee by Francois Beauchemin and then taken down by a leg trip by Matt Beleskey, both in the second period. He limped off the ice on the first one but returned after a short trip to the dressing room.
"It was in the back of the knee and there's no padding there, so just hit a nerve and the leg went numb," Doughty said. "That's it. It's fine."
As for the Beleskey hit: "I kind of tried to dodge the hit at the same time. I don't really know if he's actually trying to make a big, cheap shot at me or not. He's obviously trying to run me, there's no doubt about that, but I think Beleskey is a pretty fair player and I don't know he's trying to hurt me or anything."
The hate is building though between these two clubs. Buckle up for Thursday night at Staples Center.
Of course, for the Kings, they already feel like they've played two home games.
"As much as it's on the road, our fans were great," said Doughty. "You can hear them just as loud as their fans. Our fans did a great job of making it feel like home just as much as they could."
How does it feel to be jumping on the team bus Monday night with a pair of wins from the Honda Center?
"We could only dream of this, really," said Doughty. "We knew it was going to tough to do. They might say we don't deserve it or whatnot, but it doesn't matter. We're up 2-0 going back to Staples, and it's exactly what we planned."