Kings handle Ducks in a rivalry game that ejected the heated Pheonix Copley

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Kings and Ducks are at two completely different stages in their development, and one team took care of business as it should have been while the other moved a game closer to a much-anticipated NHL draft lottery .

The fact that a 29-point difference separates the Southern California rivals didn’t deter the packed crowd at the Honda Center, who watched what the Freeway Faceoff was meant to be – a hard-fought game in an energetic building packed with fans on both sides, which ESPN deemed worthy of being included in its schedule.

Who knew that the most heated competitor of all Friday Nights would be Phoenix Copley, a 30-year-old longtime American Hockey League goaltender who has become their favorite goaltender and who is unleashing a side of himself that perhaps none of the kings have seen? His gentle and reserved demeanor vanished after Anaheim’s Frank Vatrano delivered a left-handed punch to his head. Emerging was an angry goaltender ready to take on anyone – including Ducks goalie John Gibson – and thrown by umpire Steve Kozari as there was an explosion between the teams in the final minute of the second period.

The Kings, who shrugged off a few Anaheim rallies, reveled that their goaltender entered a changed state after their 6-3 win on Friday night.

“We love it,” defense attorney Drew Doughty said. “It’s great to see. I was glad everyone on the ice stood up for him. When he got kicked out, the first thing we said was we’re still going to get that win for you. We kill this penalty. We weren’t worried at all.”

Copley failed to improve on his 17-3-1 record and received a match penalty for throwing a right hand to Vatrano while his blocker pad was still on despite Kings teammate Mikey Anderson getting in the way. But before Kozari pointed him to the LA locker room, the Alaskan-born goalie, with the candy cane tribute to his hometown of North Pole on his mask, was trying to reach out to other Ducks.

One was Gibson, who ran to the center ice and hit him twice with his stick before dropping it. Whether he or Copley had made the challenge, Kozari would not allow the goalie fight, which would have lit not only the packed arena but probably all of hockey Twitter.

“I just booted up,” Gibson said. “Ref said I won’t let you guys fight. Skated back to my net.”

Copley slipped out of the Kings locker room just as coach Todd McLellan was about to give his press conference. During his unexpected turn as LA goaltender since rising from the minors in early December, the journeyman with just 54 NHL games in 10 pro seasons has brought his team a quiet stability to match his demeanor.

Watching him instead of Jonathan Quick, who never shied away from sticking his nose into an animated scrum, was something his teammates could see.

“He’s a pretty quiet guy, so I assumed somebody did something to him that he didn’t like,” Kings winger Trevor Moore said. “I didn’t see what happened. Apparently he got shot. Copley’s a pretty respectful guy, so I’m sure someone did something to make him act that way.”

That someone was Vatrano. There are often two sides to a hockey brawl, and the Ducks winger did not see an innocent party in Copley.

“He starts the whole thing at the TV timeout and pushes (Trevor) Zegras,” Vatrano said. “So I let him know I was there. That’s it.”

Anaheim coach Dallas Eakins, whose team is enduring a losing season amid a significant rebuild, had no problem with Gibson heading to the fight.

“I was glad he (Gibson) was. Frank’s on the ice,” Eakins said. “He’s already got one of the kings on him and the other keeper (Copley) is up there and he’s hitting him with his blocker. Then he blasts it with his fist. I have no problem with that at all.

“The only thing our boys did is they stuck together. They were resilient. I wouldn’t expect anything less than Gibby showing up up there.”

The Ducks (17-33-6) have nothing but pride to play, and that was tough in a four-game losing streak that saw the league’s highest-scoring team give up 28 goals. The kings who have finished rebuilding are in another room. Every game counts. Friday mattered. Saturday’s home game against Arizona will be significant.

That’s what it’s like when you’re fighting for the Pacific Division title, where only four points separate you, Vegas, Seattle and Edmonton.

“Of course you look forward to every game,” said Adrian Kempe, who stayed hot with his eighth goal in a four-game scoring streak and has a team lead of 28 this season. “Everything is at stake. We know that we definitely have to win these couple games. When we go head-to-head tomorrow, that’s a game we think we’re good enough to beat (Arizona) and we should be playing well enough to win those games.

“This is the funnest stretch here before the playoffs. We really need to dial in the last 20 games and keep playing like we’ve been doing for the past few weeks.

The Kings (31-18-7) have won three straight games with an aggregate score of 17-5 after the All-Star break. On Friday, they converted three of four power plays while limiting the Ducks to a Mason McTavish goal during Copley’s five-minute major penalty. It’s not just the big guns like Kempe, Anze Kopitar and Kevin Fiala who score. Viktor Arvidsson scored two and Blake Lizotte launched the offensive attack in a game they were never behind.

McLellan faces some tough lineup decisions as his team recovers. Gabriel Vilardi returned for his first game since January 14. It meant Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who was effective throughout, suffered a scratch for the first time in three months. It’s a good problem that the coach has.

“Maybe it’s fair, maybe it’s not fair,” said Kempe. “But I think the group is very tight at the moment. I think we’re all happy that we’re playing well. Either you’re in the lineup or you’re not. I think everyone contributes a lot, especially in the dressing room and stuff. That’s why we’re playing well right now. I think the chemistry is really there.”

Another development on Friday night was Quick finishing for the late Copley. He’s a Kings legend but it’s been a tough year for the 37-year-old goalkeeper who now takes on backup duties. He stopped eight of the 10 shots he faced in just over 20 minutes.

“There’s probably no one else we’d rather have in this situation,” McLellan said. “A guy who has played as many games as he has. Played in this building many, many times on big nights. Walked in unexpectedly and did a really, really good job. I think he was the winning goalkeeper tonight, which is great. We needed that for him. He needed that for himself.”

Also welcomed was a Kings Ducks matchup that got fans pumped even though one team will not feature in the playoffs. It’s a crime that there are only three meetings, with the last being on April 13 to close out the regular season. Moore, whose oft-repeated mention of being a native of suburban Thousand Oaks has become a running gag, grew up enjoying the rivalry. “You see (Ryan) Getzlaf against Kopitar all these years,” he said. “It’s something special. It’s fun to be there.”

“I don’t think we should expect less,” McLellan said. “Each team is in a different situation. When I came here four years ago we were probably the Ducks and Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf were still here and scoring goals. And every team has its schedule and its plan. That doesn’t change anything about the rivalry. It’s not taking Anaheim or LA off the map and moving it to another state or country.

“We are still on the way and the fans know it too. It was a full building. An excited building. You could feel it on the bench anyway.”

Said Gibson, “It sounded loud. Lots of Kings fans, that’s for sure.”

A goalkeeper didn’t stay until the end. It wasn’t what you would imagine. And Doughty got a kick out of an unlikely hero who continues to endear himself to a fan base.

“I was hoping the linesman would just let her go,” he said. “I would have liked to see that. But Copper is playing great for us. We don’t need him hurt.”

(Photo of Kings goaltender Pheonix Copley leaving the ice after a second-half scrum on Friday: Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images) Kings handle Ducks in a rivalry game that ejected the heated Pheonix Copley

Russell Falcon

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