By Adam Brady
It’s been more than 10 months since LA eliminated Anaheim in a gut-wrenching Game 7 at Honda Center, but none of the Ducks who were there that dreadful night have forgotten it.
Of course, they couldn’t even if they tried, since the topic has been broached by reporters each of the five times the two teams have gone to battle this regular season. It’s a thread pulled at again today in the lead-up to tonight’s final regular season chapter of this season’s Freeway Faceoff, with the playoffs looming less than a month away.
With the Ducks firmly atop the Pacific Division (11 points up on second-place Vancouver) and the resurgent Kings balancing on the playoff bubble, there is a strong possibility the bitter foes could butt heads again in a postseason that starts four weeks from today. Whether it’s in the first round or – if both teams advance – the second, there is a strong chance tonight won’t be the last game of the season between the rivals.
|“It’s a huge game for them, but also for us. They’re making a push, and we’re trying to push up the standings as well. It’s another hockey game, but it’s going to be a big one.” |
“Obviously it’s our nemesis, our rivals over there,” Corey Perry said following this morning’s skate at Honda Center. “It’s always nice when you can come back the next year and put things together. They beat us in Game 7 pretty handily in this building, and we don’t want to let that happen again.”
The Ducks have gotten a modicum of payback against LA this season, having won three of the first four games, including two epic comeback victories at Honda Center. The last was a 4-2 victory in which Anaheim wiped out a 2-0 third period deficit with four unanswered goals.
While those wins are satisfying, they do only so much to wash away the bitter taste of last spring.
“We had a seven-game emotional series in the playoffs last year, and obviously losing at home in the playoffs added to it," Kyle Palmieri said. We’ve had pretty good success against them in the regular season, but they’re a team that’s playing for points right now and to get into the playoff race. We’re just hoping to get our two points tonight and keep trying to get some revenge for last year.”
While the Ducks pretty much have their ticket stamped for the postseason, the Kings are fighting for their playoff lives, despite having won five of their last seven. Should the Ducks beat LA tonight in regulation, the Kings would fall into the third wild card spot in the Western Conference and temporarily out of the playoff picture.
“It’s a huge game for them, but also for us,” Perry said. “We want to make sure that teams know when they come into our building, it’s going to be a hard-fought game for them. They’re making a push, and we’re trying to push up the standings as well. It’s another hockey game, but it’s going to be a big one.”
|“Every game I’ve been here with them, it’s been a big game. A lot of the reason it the proximity and the rivalry, but the fans are really into the game as well. When the fans are into it, the players seem to get into it that much more. It gets you excited, it gets you motivated, it gets your blood pumping.” |
While the Ducks would certainly love to have the chance to get postseason payback on LA, they say it’s not a goal that supersedes the ultimate ambition of capturing the Stanley Cup. Head coach Bruce Boudreau even went so far as to (half-jokingly) say his team would enjoy playing a part in ensuring LA doesn’t get a chance to defend their title this postseason.
“We hope they don’t make it,” he told reporters with a hint of a smile. “They’re a great team, they’re Stanley Cup champions, and they’ve been the final four the last three years.
“At the same time, we just want to beat them for us. We’re not completely in there yet, and there is a lot for us to play for to get ahead. It gets us two points closer to clinching a playoff spot, which is the most important thing.”
Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said the focus is on his team maintaining their perch at the top of the standings, but added, “Anytime you can put teams behind you, that’s what you want to do. The Kings are a good hockey team, and they always play well in the playoffs. To play a part in making sure they’re not there, that’s a good thing for us.”
Regardless of the postseason implications, tonight promises to be another hard-hitting, intense battle inside an undoubtedly raucous Honda Center.
“I’ve got to believe both teams aren’t really enamored with each other,” Boudreau said. “Every game I’ve been here with them, it’s been a big game. A lot of the reason is the proximity and the rivalry, but the fans are really into the game as well.
“When the fans are into it, the players seem to get into it that much more. It gets you excited, it gets you motivated, it gets your blood pumping.”