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LOS ANGELES -- There they walked, rivals nearly in arms, side by side under the dark Southern California sky, illuminated only by the towers that light up Chavez Ravine and the Elysian Park throughout the summer.
The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings walked through palm trees and down a path that would eventually separate, forcing the Kings to head in the direction of a beach volleyball court and the Ducks to walk toward a stage built solely for the legendary rock band KISS.
Yes, this was real and it was happening Saturday night in the shadows of Hollywood.
The Ducks would go on for a 3-0 win in front of 54,099, but the result came long after the players followed the rubber matting under their skate guards to the brand new hockey rink stretching from third to first in Dodger Stadium, the third oldest ballpark in baseball, a 52-year-old L.A. landmark.
Legendary broadcasters Vin Scully and Bob Miller emceed the opening act while standing on the interlocking LA behind the stage built atop home plate and not far from a street hockey court. The crowd stood and cheered wildly.
Hockey outdoors in a warm-weather climate became a reality Saturday night at Dodger Stadium with the first installment of the four-part 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, and still the unique setting couldn't stop the Ducks from piling on their rivals from up the freeway.
Anaheim also beat the Kings at Honda Center on Thursday and has built a 19-point lead over its biggest rivals in the Pacific Division. The League-leading Ducks now have 83 points.
"The energy was fabulous," said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, hoarse from trying to scream orders at his players over 54,000-plus who were screaming louder than he ever could. "I can't even talk now because players couldn't hear me five feet from me when I was trying to tell them who was up."
The Kings went 0-for-4 with six shots on goal on the power play and ran their goalless streak to 116:47. They haven't scored since Anze Kopitar's goal 3:13 into their 2-1 loss at Anaheim on Thursday.
L.A. has lost four straight in regulation and is 0-4-1 in its past five games. The Kings are 4-10-2 in their past 16 games.
"It doesn't matter if we have 30 shots, if there is a goose egg on the scoreboard it doesn't do us any good," Kings center Anze Kopitar said.
Perry scored his team-leading 28th goal of the season 2:45 into the game by pushing the puck, loose behind Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, over the goal line. Beleskey had his fifth goal of the season go in off his stick shaft less than six minutes later to give Anaheim a 2-0 lead.
Kopitar had a chance to ignite the pro-Kings crowd in a way that the legendary band KISS did before the game, but he couldn't convert a penalty shot at 9:46 of the first period.
Andrew Cogliano scored into the empty net with 1:29 remaining in the third period.
"Hiller was so good [Saturday night] that I think halfway through the third I said, 'It doesn't matter, they're not going to beat him,' " Boudreau said. "I said that on the other side so many times, we're just not going to beat this guy [Quick] tonight. I just had a feeling that no matter how many good looks they had in the last 10 minutes they weren't going to beat him, or they were going to miss the puck. He was on."
So was the electricity in the stadium, literally and metaphorically speaking. The game was the centerpiece of one of the greatest spectacles the NHL has ever put on.
It was the League's ninth outdoor game and the first in a climate more fitting for sand and surf. The elements were about perfect, especially for a January night in Southern California.
The temperature at puck drop was in the low 60s. The ice was of NHL quality. The only complaint was that the puck was bouncing as the game wore on, but that's no different than it is in most arenas.
"That's just what happens," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "The guys that made the ice did a great job, but regardless there are no excuses, both teams are playing on the same ice and they played better on it."
The atmosphere was electric, complete with pyrotechnics and grown men in makeup and space shoes rocking out.
KISS performed twice and Wayne Gretzky, the architect of the hockey boom in Southern California starting with his trade from Edmonton to L.A. more than 25 years ago, dropped the ceremonial first puck between captains Dustin Brown of the Kings and Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks.
The coaches, Boudreau and Darryl Sutter of the Kings, commented on the view from the bench and how special it was.
"It was unbelievable from where we stood," Sutter said. "It was incredible to see all that."
The NHL's version of Showtime came to Dodger Stadium, providing the intoxicating combination of Hollywood and hockey.
"People say Californians are laid back," Boudreau said. "I thought they were pretty into it [Saturday night]."
The hockey part did not disappoint either, even though it did slow down to a plodding pace in the second period.
Anaheim scored on two of its first four shots, but the Kings had their chances, generating 20 shots on goal in the first period only to be turned aside each time. The action picked up again late in the second and early in the third as the Kings had two power plays in a span of two and a half minutes bridging the second intermission.
Kyle Palmieri was the guilty player on both infractions, but the Kings couldn't make him or the Ducks pay.
Anaheim, in complete control of the game, started going with shorter shifts and more of a dump-and-chase game as the time bled off the clock in the third. The Kings tried to loosen up, straying from their personality and what makes them so dangerous. It didn't work.
"They're the best team in the League for a reason," Brown said. "They found a way to get timely goals. We had some really good chances, but we've gotta bear down on our chances. We've gotta start finding points."
The Kings and Ducks now move on to the remainder of their indoor schedule while the NHL shifts its focus across the country, to Yankee Stadium, on what is expected to be a frigid Sunday afternoon for a game between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, Part 2 of the Stadium Series.
The game Sunday and the one Wednesday between the Rangers and New York Islanders at the big ballpark in the Bronx will have a familiar look and feel to hockey lovers who grew up playing on frozen ponds and rivers. Now those same people know hockey outdoors doesn't always have to involve blue lips, chattering teeth, layers of clothes and frozen toes.
Outdoor hockey in Southern California; it's not a novelty anymore.
"It was a real special experience," Hiller said. "It was pretty unbelievable."
|Colin Fraser Roughing against Patrick Maroon|
|Patrick Maroon Roughing against Colin Fraser|
|Bryan Allen Holding against Mike Richards|
|Tim Jackman Fighting (maj) against Kyle Clifford|
|Kyle Clifford Fighting (maj) against Tim Jackman|
|Slava Voynov Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Hampus Lindholm Interference against Dustin Brown|
|Jeff Carter Hi-sticking against Saku Koivu|
|Drew Doughty Tripping against Patrick Maroon|
|Kyle Palmieri Hooking against Willie Mitchell|
|Kyle Palmieri Interference on goalkeeper against Jonathan Quick|