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Ducks grab home ice by beating Kings 3-1

by Curtis Zupke
LOS ANGELES -- The Anaheim Ducks went from the possibility of an early summer to home ice in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- and it took them just a little more than 24 hours.

Saku Koivu had a goal and an assist and Dan Ellis made 43 saves as Anaheim clinched the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference by beating the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 on Saturday night at Staples Center.

Anaheim's win, combined with losses by Phoenix and Nashville, secured the fourth seed for the Ducks in a profound turn of events for the Southern California rivals.

The Ducks were on the playoff bubble this week and could have been eliminated Friday but instead won for the 10th time in 13 games to conclude a remarkable finish to the regular season.

"It's amazing," Teemu Selanne said. "It just shows how hard it is. You have to believe."

Even coach Randy Carlyle could hardly see these pieces falling into place.

"I don't think anybody picked us to have home-ice advantage at any point," Carlyle said. "But it's funny the way things fall into your lap when you win your fair share of games. That's back to our players. They worked extremely hard and stayed committed, and they've earned this."

As pertinent as opening at home is the fact that the Ducks are taking on the look of the 2009 team that came on strong at the end, upset top-seeded San Jose and took Detroit to Game 7 of the conference semifinals.

Carlyle wouldn't say his team is peaking but he acknowledged, "We've found ways to get points. Even when we go on the road, we feel we can go into any building and have success if we play our game. And that's going to be the challenge."

The Ducks gave themselves a challenge by getting outshot 44-20, but Ellis found almost every puck for the weekend sweep. He improved him to 7-1-0 lifetime against L.A.

"They really brought it tonight," Ellis said of the Kings. "It wasn't that the initial shot was dangerous but they had lots of traffic. They're always in front of the net and make it difficult to see. You've just got to try to look around them and make a good block and hope it hits you."

The Kings' fall in the past two nights mirrored the Ducks' rise. L.A. could have clinched fourth place with a win; instead, Anaheim's 2-1 and 3-1 wins in the home-and-home series assured the Kings of finishing no better than seventh -- and they could fall to eighth if Chicago wins on Sunday.

Los Angeles has its special teams to blame. L.A. converted only one of seven power plays and its second-ranked penalty-killing unit was beaten twice.

Anaheim could see the No. 4 spot within reach when it took a 3-0 lead on Francois Beauchemin's power-play goal 8:57 into the second period. It came moments after Ellis robbed Dustin Brown on a shorthanded breakaway and denied Drew Doughty's slapper.

It was that kind of night for the Kings.

Not only did Los Angeles come up empty on four power plays in the first 12 minutes of the game, the Kings came out of the first period trailing 2-0 because of its own undisciplined play.

Koivu buried a brilliant blind backhand pass from Corey Perry into an open net at 15:41 with Matt Greene serving a hooking penalty. That came just 2:14 after Brandon McMillan batted his own rebound into the net off the Kings' fourth power play ended prematurely because of a bench minor for too many men.

Los Angeles also wasted a four-minute power play 83 seconds into the game because of Beauchemin's double minor for high sticking Ryan Smyth.

"The opportunity was there early in the game," coach Terry Murray said. "We had some pretty good momentum there … right now we have to find a way to put the puck in the net. When you have that many opportunities and you're not scoring you start gripping the stick a little too hard."

Ellis started his second straight game for Anaheim after Ray Emery was ruled out and was more than solid, particularly in a second period that saw the Kings outshoot Anaheim 19-5 and get their only goal when Smyth scored during a power play.

Emery is dealing with a lower body injury but is expected to be available for the playoffs, a team spokesman said.

Los Angeles enters the postseason having scored just 12 goals over its past seven games and its power play is in a 1-for-23 slump. That power play was integral to L.A.'s success last postseason, and Brown knows things have to change.

"The power play was a big part of our confidence (last year)," Brown said. "One way or another, we've got to figure it out."

Brown sat in an empty locker room and tried to put a sunnier picture on his team's outlook.

"It definitely not how we wanted to finish the season," he said. "It's a new season and we've got to put this (behind us). Whether we finish fourth or eighth or whatever we finish, playoffs are playoffs and there's no easy matchup. The only advantage we missed out on was home ice. We're a good road team. That's how we're going to have to play it."

The teams played it rough at the end, with Selanne engaging Brad Richardson in a rare fight.

"You don't see that very often," the 40-year-old said. "But obviously when you feel some of the players hurt you, you have to do some action, and I have to do what I have to do."

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