ANAHEIM - The Ducks-Kings rivalry has taken on massive significance over the years, but never has it meant as much to both rivals' playoff hopes this late in the season.
That impact could be felt inside a playoff-atmospheric Honda Center, where a standing room only crowd of 17,473 watched Anaheim vanquish LA in dramatic fashion, 2-1 in overtime. With 19.0 seconds remaining in the 3-on-3 session, Rickard Rakell carried the puck into the LA zone and sniped a shot from the right wing circle that dove into the far top corner to win it. That ignited the home crowd and sent the Ducks bench pouring onto the ice to mob Rakell, whose game-winner was his team-leading 32nd goal of the year.
Video: LAK@ANA: Rakell goes top shelf for OT winner
I just saw there wasn't much time left," Rakell said. "I just tried to build speed and beat somebody up the ice. Try to get the shot through. It was a great feeling."
Tonight marked the first time since the Ducks were founded in 1993 that Anaheim and LA were both within two points of a playoff spot (plus or minus) this late in the season, as LA came in with 93 points and Anaheim had 91. When the dust settled, the Ducks (40-25-13) pulled within a point of the Kings for third place in the Pacific Division but leapfrogged Colorado for the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. It was the fifth straight season the Ducks reached 40 wins, a franchise record for most consecutive.
"We knew we needed these points, and I thought we played hard throughout the whole game," Rakell said. "It was a close game with a lot of chances for both teams. It feels good to get these two points."
With the score knotted at a goal apiece, space on the ice became tighter and the play more physical in a third period in which the Ducks managed only two shots and John Gibson saved all seven of the Kings' attempts on net.
Gibson made two more saves in OT and Kings goalie Jonathan Quick made four before Rakell fired a puck that Quick had no chance of stopping.
A collision near the blue line between Andrew Cogliano and Ryan Kesler led directly to the game's first goal, as LA's Drew Doughty was able to walk in unimpeded and fire a shot that banked in off Gibson.
"I thought we played good throughout the whole game," Rakell said. "We played hard. We created a lot of chances. It was good for us to not get down on ourselves when they scored the first goal. At the same time, even though it's not nice to be down a goal, I thought we played better when we were down a goal. We played hard."
Anaheim ultimately tied it with three minutes left in the middle session when Nick Ritchie chipped in a rebound with the backhand off a Francois Beauchemin one-timer.
Video: LAK@ANA: Ritchie chips home rebound in front
"That was our game plan - get the puck to the net," Ritchie said. "When we're in the offensive zone, go to the net. We did a good job of that as a team. We got rewarded once. There were a lot of close opportunities other than that one."
No surprise to anyone familiar with the rivalry, the next goal would be tough to find, until Rakell emerged the hero once again in the waning moments of OT.
"You have to look at the game as a whole. It was a pretty evenly played game," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "We found a way to grind back and get into the hockey game with a little bit more of a cycle game. Nick Ritchie was able to bat in a rebound. We showed some resiliency, but so did they. This is typical LA-Anaheim game. It could've went either way. We were fortunate enough to find one in overtime."
The Ducks will look to make another move in the standings Sunday evening vs. Colorado, another vital matchup for Anaheim's playoff hopes with just four games left. Colorado dominated Chicago 5-0 tonight and are just a point behind the Ducks.
"We're going to have to park these emotions and the satisfaction we got out of it and get ready for the next one," Carlyle said, "because the next one is the real big one."