ANAHEIM -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman watched the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings put hockey in the California spotlight at the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium in January.
The festive spectacle there could only have been topped by the first-ever Ducks-Kings matchup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the teams obliged with the Western Conference Second Round series that has placed hockey back on the forefront in the L.A. market and beyond.
"This is a pretty exciting time for hockey in Southern California, obviously," Commissioner Bettman said Monday night before Game 2 at Honda Center, where the mixed fan base has made for an intense atmosphere. "If you're looking at one of the byproducts of the re-alignment and the change of playoff format, you're seeing it in this series: The first time that these two teams have actually faced off against each other in a playoff series.
"And what better way to extend the rivalry than to have a terrific playoff series?"
Commissioner Bettman applauded the Ducks and Kings for growing the game in the L.A. area, from the grassroots level up. He pointed to Anaheim's successfully developed high-school hockey program and its local player, Anaheim left wing Emerson Etem, from Long Beach, Calif., who grew up a Kings fan.
"It's a great mix and a great time, and it's shown how much the game has grown," the Commissioner said. "That starts with ownership, whether or not it's [Kings owner] Phil Anschutz or over here with [Ducks owner] Henry Samueli. Their commitment to hockey, to the community, and to their clubs, has brought us to the point where we are."
Commissioner Bettman wouldn't comment on the possibility of another outdoor game in California, but said that he has "lots of thoughts" about how to continue the wildly successful tradition in 2014-15. He indicated that there will be fewer than the six outdoor games that were held this season, the most the NHL has staged.
Commissioner Bettman was more focused on this season's playoffs, which he described as "breathtaking." The Kings are a huge part of the narrative, having become the fourth team in NHL history to erase a 3-0 series deficit and win, against the San Jose Sharks in a Western Conference First Round series.
While the buzz in Southern California is evident, Commissioner Bettman was asked what the first Ducks-Kings playoff series means to the League.
"It comes down to how strong the game is," he said. "We never doubted that Southern California would be great for NHL hockey and hockey at all levels, and you're seeing it, and that's great for the teams and that's great for the League. But, we want both our teams to do well. It's just that they can't win all the time."