By Kyle Shohara
The seventh and final game of the series has arrived, as the Ducks and Kings square off one last time in the Battle for Southern California. The winner of this do-or-die game will face the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday at noon PT.
The series has been even from start to finish, with both teams scoring 13 goals apiece and each side taking two of three in the others’ building. So what is it going to take to come out on top tonight? Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf says it’s all about staying true to their system.
“It’s about playing hockey, playing our game,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of success throughout this season in big games when we’ve stuck to our system and played our style. That’s what our game plan is.”
Getzlaf has carried his team when they’ve needed him the most, and tonight figures to be no different. Getzlaf says he’ll fall back on his experience in these types of games to help lead the way. “It only helps when you’ve been in these situations,” he said.
Getzlaf has appeared in three Game 7s in his career, in addition to two gold medal games with Team Canada in the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics. “It helps your relax, play your game, do things properly and not overthink everything. That’s what we’re going to try and portray to our group.”
“This is what hockey is all about,” said winger Patrick Maroon. “It’s been a rivalry ever since we got into the league. Everyone is ready to play in here. We have a lot of confidence. We just have to go out there and do our thing.”
Head coach Bruce Boudreau says tonight’s game is exciting for hockey fans from all regions, especially in Southern California. “I'm excited. It's Game 7 and the only game in town tonight,” he said. “For hockey people, it's a real exciting time. It's a real exciting time for Southern California. You either fear it or embrace it. We want to embrace it. We want to go after it.”
It’s been the team’s motto throughout the season and playoffs, spawning from their disappointing first-round loss to Detroit in the 2013 postseason. Tonight is an opportunity to exorcise those demons.
“We did a lot of good things all year, but it comes down to one game,” said Maroon. “We know what we’re capable of doing. We know what we need to do. We need to have everyone tonight, all 20 guys. No one said it was going to be easy. This is the fun stuff.”
Fans of both teams have gone at one another since 1993 when the Ducks entered the league. Though Ducks fans had bragging rights for winning California’s first Stanley Cup in 2007, the Kings fanbase got their long-awaited championship in 2012. Boudreau says he has no doubt that the winner of tonight’s game will have bragging rights until next season.
“There's no doubt. Knowing the fanbases and the teams a little bit, they'll hold it over one another," he said. "There are no lines drawn in the sand. You're either an LA King or Anaheim Duck. There is no ‘I like both teams.’ It's going to be one or the other. The whole southern part of the state is in this. When you're drawing up rivalries, you want a seven-game series with the home team winning.”
During the offseason, Ducks forward Teemu Selanne announced (via viral video) that this would indeed be his final season. The 43-year-old has been a fan favorite ever since he arrived in Anaheim in February, 1996. With this potentially being his final game as a Duck, he was asked if he’s planning on giving his teammates a pregame speech. “I don’t know…in these situations, you don’t need much,” he said. “A lot of times, less is more. It’s all about just playing your best. That’s what everybody’s going to think.”
Selanne has appeared in five Game 7s in his NHL career, and he says all of them have been “very special.” Selanne adds, “You know it’s a live-or-die. You have to enjoy it. We know what the situation is, so we just need to go out and do it. It’s very simple.”
Defenseman Cam Fowler says knowing its Selanne’s final season gives him an extra push to do his best. “It gives us some motivation because you want to play for guys like Teemu and Saku [Koivu],” he said. “Guys who might be getting close to the end of their careers. As a young guy, I try and use that as motivation. I want to go out there and play as hard as I possibly can for them. Hopefully things work out.”