The back-and-forth Western Conference semifinals series between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings is about to come to an end. Game 7 takes place tonight in Anaheim, with the winner moving on to battle the Chicago Blackhawks and the loser heading to the golf course. When it comes to the NHL playoffs, there isn’t a single thing more intense than Game 7.
With that in mind, you’re forced to wonder if John Gibson, the Ducks’ 20-year-old phenom of a goalie, is ready to handle the task at hand.
Gibson has received nothing but praise since his Game 4 shutout of the Kings, especially since it was just his fourth career NHL appearance. After coming back down to earth, allowing three goals in a Game 5 win, Gibson suffered his first ever defeat in Game 6.
Now, the stage has been set. Anaheim’s netminder, who still can’t even legally drink in the U.S., is taking the ice in his first ever Game 7. Is six games of experience enough to prep him for the intensity he’s about to face?
Well, the obvious answer is no. There’s nothing in the regular season, pros or minors, that can prepare a player for a Game 7. It’s a situation in which one simple mistake can end your entire team’s season. If Gibson flubs an easy shot, misplays a puck or just plain can’t come through with one clutch save when his team needs it most, it could very well result in Anaheim going home. It’s the kind of pressure that can crack experienced veterans, much less 20-year-old kids.
What Gibson does have on his side is his inexplicably calm presence in net. Fellow Ducks teammates have marveled at how relaxed he is in net despite being thrown into the whirlwind of the playoffs with minimal experience. Even though he’s allowed five goals in his last two games, Gibson still boasts a .946 save percentage. In six career appearances, he’s let just nine pucks go by.
Stats are certainly on Gibson’s side, but again, there’s a stark difference between his NHL regular season debut against the Vancouver Canucks and a winner-take-all playoff game. Hype only takes you so far, and it means absolutely nothing once the puck is dropped. On top of that, he’s playing a Kings team who’s already put together enough proof this postseason that they can overcome any obstacle in their way. And they’re sick and tired of hearing about Anaheim’s wunderkind goalie.
People can call Gibson the future of American goaltending all they want, but his biggest step in proving this comes tonight. His trademark composure is going to be put to the test almost immediately. If Gibson truly wants to show the world he’s worthy of the hysteria that follows him, a Game 7 victory will go a long way.