By Kyle Shohara
LOS ANGELES – It is arguably one of the biggest games of the season up to this point, and one that has the possibility of being etched in franchise lore. In just a few hours, the Ducks (36-19-8, 80 pts.) and Kings (38-21-4, 80 pts.) will renew one of the best rivalries in hockey with the victor taking sole possession of first place in the hotly contested and battle-tested Pacific Division.
Not once this season have the Ducks sat atop the division – the spot that’s been held by the Kings for the better part of the season. Early-season struggles tested the Ducks’ character and will to the max, but the team refused to buckle. At one time down 16 points to the Kings, the Ducks made a 180-degree turn since Christmas and have never looked back.
Despite the magnitude of this one, Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler remains even-keeled by approaching this game like any other in the regular season.
“You can hype it up all you want, but at the end of the day it’s two strong teams with a pretty good rivalry competing for first place,” said Fowler. “It’s a regular season game, so you can’t put too much into it, but it’s always a fight playing against those guys, especially in [this] building. The energy and intensity will be ramped up. We have to be ready for a strong test against a team that’s looking for some revenge on us.”
Anaheim’s victory two nights ago in Arizona was its 10th in a row – tying the franchise mark set from Dec. 6-28, 2013. The Ducks have also earned points in 12 straight (11-0-1, 23 pts.), which, along with the aforementioned win streak, mark the NHL's longest active streaks.
Their turnaround since Christmas is one worth repeating. The Ducks have gone an NHL-best 24-4-2 (.833 points percentage) since then, which also includes a league-leading 11-1-2 road mark during that span. Anaheim has won 17 of its past 19 games (17-1-1) since Jan. 20, and has also won five consecutive road games in addition to its eight-game home-winning streak.
The Kings, meanwhile, enter the game winners of five of their past six, and it was Anaheim that ended their four-game win streak on Feb. 28 at Honda Center (4-2 victory). Led by Corey Perry's ninth career hat trick, the Ducks won for the eighth straight time in a game that had the look – and feel – of a playoff battle.
These two clubs last met at Staples Center on Feb. 4, another 4-2 victory for Anaheim. It was an early night for Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, who was pulled after Ryan Garbutt's goal made it 3-0 Anaheim at the 2:41 mark of the second period. John Gibson, who is expected to get the start today, made 23 saves and was named the game’s first star. Gibson is 2-1-0 in three games against LA this season, with a 2.34 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.
To get to the Promised Land, Fowler knows he and his teammates will have to go through the elite clubs in the Western Conference.
“You have to go through the best if you want to be the best, and for us that means going through Chicago and LA,” Fowler said. “This year is no different. [LA] is a team that knows how to win. Come crunch time, we knew they’d be a team we’d be seeing a lot of.”
GAME-TIME DECISION FOR GETZLAF
That’s the latest word on Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, who did not play in the game on Thursday. Getzlaf suffered a lower-body injury on Wednesday against the Montreal Canadiens, but says he “probably” could’ve played on Thursday had it been a playoff game. How he reacts to the treatment given yesterday will further determine his status for today, he says.
If he can’t play, expect Chris Wagner to draw into the lineup. It’s almost like he never left, since the Ducks re-claimed him off waivers on Feb. 25. Recalled yesterday from San Diego, Wagner was claimed off waivers the first time by the Colorado Avalanche on Nov. 15, and went on to score his first four career NHL goals with the Avs before they placed him on waivers.
Selected by Anaheim in the fifth round (122nd overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft, Wagner collected 3-1—4 points with a +3 rating and 18 penalty minutes in five games with the Gulls this season.