By Kyle Shohara
Morning Skate Photos
With the Ducks sitting atop the Pacific Division and co-leading the NHL in standings points (95, with NYR, STL and MTL), it isn’t so much a matter of if than it is where they place as the postseason draws near.
The outlook isn’t quite as clear for their opponent, the LA Kings, who currently hold down the third spot in the Pacific with 81 points. The Kings enter tonight’s game tied in points with fourth-place Calgary because of a game in hand, and sit three points back of second-place Vancouver. And with Minnesota, Winnipeg and the Canucks winning last night, the pressure is on. Simply put: A loss in regulation would drop LA behind the Flames and outside of the postseason picture.
Looking to thwart the Kings tonight will be goaltender John Gibson, who will be making his fourth consecutive start. Gibson enters the game having won five of his last six decisions, and has a 9-4-0 record in 14 games since his recall. Frederik Andersen hasn’t played since March 9 at Vancouver, but head coach Bruce Boudreau says they are sticking to a plan that has already been in place. Gibson stopped 20 of 22 shots in Anaheim’s 4-2 victory vs. LA on Feb. 27 at Honda Center in a game that saw the Ducks rally with four unanswered goals in the third period.
It appears defenseman Sami Vatanen will not be making his return to the lineup tonight, according to Boudreau. Vatanen, who suffered a lower-body injury on Feb. 15 vs. Washington, said yesterday he “felt pretty good” and expressed his interest in playing tonight against a heated rival.
“If we left it completely up to him, he’d want to play two weeks ago,” said Boudreau. “This is the time of the year where we want to make sure everybody is completely healthy. He’s pretty close to being healthy, but I don’t know if he’s 100 percent. He might be 96 percent. With the team we have right now, and with the defense playing pretty well, why take that extra chance?”
I have a feeling it’s going to be pretty loud tonight. I’m guessing some Kings fans will come into Honda Center, but I said this on Sunday night – we have the best fans in the league. When they start getting rocking and rolling, it’s pretty loud and exciting. - James Wisniewski
NEW LEVEL OF LOUD
Ducks-Kings games always bring out the best in both fanbases, whether in LA at Staples Center or here at Honda Center. And with so much on the line tonight, the Ducks know it’ll be a raucous environment from start to finish.
“I have a feeling it’s going to be pretty loud tonight,” said defenseman James Wisniewski, who experienced this SoCal rivalry during his first stint in Anaheim from 2008-10. “I’m guessing some Kings fans will come into Honda Center, but I said this on Sunday night – we have the best fans in the league. When they start getting rocking and rolling, it’s pretty loud and exciting.”
Wisniewski says it won’t take very long to get things revved up on the ice, either. “You’re going to feel it right away. There won’t be anything hiding that,” he said. “You’re going to have a desperate team in LA fighting for a playoff spot, and what better than a national TV game with us trying to get home-ice advantage for the rest of the playoffs? I’m just looking forward to the puck to drop.”
“These are the important games, and you always want to get up for them,” said Ryan Kesler, who has four goals, six points and a plus-5 rating in four games vs. LA this season. “I know the history these two teams have. You want to finish the regular season strong, and we know how tight the race is for first place. It’s always fun when we play these guys because the fans go at it. It’s a loud building.”
The atmosphere doesn’t just get the players fired up. “It gets you excited, motivated and it gets you going. It gets your blood pumping,” said Boudreau. “It’s what makes Ducks-Kings games so special. It’s a man vs. man game, and it’ll have 60-plus hits in it.”