At long last, a real rivalry will be born.
After squaring off in 117 regular-season games spanning two decades, the Ducks and Kings finally meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It all starts tonight at 5 p.m. PT in Game 1 of the second round at Honda Center.
Because of the early start time for tonight’s game, the Ducks skated earlier than usual. But after their half-hour session on the ice, they expressed their excitement for what figures to be a long, grinding series.
“This is going to be crazy,” said defenseman Ben Lovejoy. “The teams are excited to go. I know we’re looking forward to this matchup. This is a team we’ve focused on all year. They’re always very passionate games.
“The past couple years, this team has gotten the best of us during the regular season. We wanted to prove to them – and to us – that we can be successful against this team. We were able to do that in the regular season, but as of today, that doesn’t matter.”
Emerson Etem is expected to draw into the lineup for Game 1. This series holds special meaning for the 21-year-old who was born and raised in Long Beach. “It’s going to be a huge series,” he said. “It hasn’t happened in any sport with two Southern California teams meeting in the playoffs. The fans are going to be into it, and it’s going to get rowdy here at Honda Center. We’re just going to feed off the crowd.”
Etem says he’s converted a few of his friends who used to root for the Kings. “My buddies are pretty much split in between,” he said. “My presence here with the Ducks has made them more faithful to the Ducks. I’m sure they’ll be cheering us on.”
As he’s done all season, head coach Bruce Boudreau did not reveal his starting goaltender. “One of them is going to play,” he simply said.
“If it makes LA work a little harder to figure out who they're going to go against, even if it’s five minutes extra, then let's make them work a little harder.”
Boudreau says the success his team had against the Kings during the regular season could’ve easily gone the other way. “We just got the lucky break at the right time,” he said. “Both games here, they might've outplayed us. Each team has had a chance to win. We've just taken advantage of our chances. Our record looks pretty good against them, but all five games could've gone either way.”
It’s safe to say Honda Center will be rocking tonight when the Ducks step onto the ice. Teemu Selanne says he expects nothing less than what the fans brought during the first round. “It’s going to be great,” he said. “This is something we’ve never faced before. Both sides are really looking forward to it.”
Lovejoy says he expects the crowd to be “10 times” more raucous than in the first round. “The fans were great against Dallas, but just playing this opponent will make it that much crazier. I’m sure some Kings fans will find their way into the building, but everyone is just looking forward to the matchup on the ice and in the stands.”
HOW THEY GOT HERE
For the Ducks, a franchise-best 54-20-8 record in the regular season gave them the top spot in the Western Conference for the first time in club history, and a date with the Dallas Stars in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Ducks jumped out to a 2-0 series lead with victories at Honda Center, but dropped Games 3 and 4 in Dallas to even the series. A breakout Game 5 at Honda Center saw the Ducks convert a club-record four power-play goals in their 6-2 victory. Those six goals tied a playoff franchise record for most goals in a game (fourth time, last was April 20, 2011 at Nashville in Game 4 of the CQF), and gave the Ducks a 3-2 series lead heading into Game 6 at American Airlines Center. The Stars quickly jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first 10 minutes of the game. The Ducks would bring it back to within a one-goal deficit, but Trevor Daley’s tally at the midway point of the contest gave the Stars another two-goal lead. Nick Bonino’s goal with 2:10 remaining in regulation cut the deficit in half, and Devante Smith-Pelly buried a rebound chance in close to tie the game with 22 seconds remaining. Then Bonino sealed the victory (and the series) with his second goal of the game 2:47 into overtime, sending the Ducks to the second round for the first time since 2009.
It was a tougher road for the Kings, who dug themselves a 0-3 series deficit to the San Jose Sharks. But wins in Games 4 and 5 brought LA back, and three unanswered goals in the third period of Game 6 sent the series to a do-or-die Game 7 in San Jose. The Sharks didn’t put up much of a fight in that game despite scoring the game’s first goal. The Kings would go on to score five unanswered goals, the last two into an empty net, becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to overcome and win a playoff series after trailing 0-3.