If you were wondering where the Kings-Ducks rivalry went somewhere around 2012, and thought you saw it come back in 2014 when the Kings beat Anaheim in a come-from-behind seven-game win, you probably like this year a ton.
The hatred is back. And it’s not just manufactured as an enticement to sell tickets like it was after the initial burst of enthusiasm.
Fighting isn’t a completely accurate measure, but consider this: the teams engaged in one scrap in their first meeting this year. They fought three times in each of the next two, nasty, ugly games that were in their own way disgusting and disturbing, but at least proved that these two teams don’t much fancy each other.
Things tamed down a little bit for game four of the season series, played January 19th in Anaheim, in part because neither team could afford to lose. The Kings were on a five-game slide. Losing made it six. The Ducks had won five of eight, with an OT point thrown in.
The Kings had opened the season series with two wins. Anaheim then took two.
Friday night would be the rubber match. But it meant more than SoCal supremacy. Playoff implications were rife. The Ducks came in in the second Wild Card spot. They had 91 points in 77 games. The Kings landed holding third spot in the Pacific, and they had 93 points but had played one more game.
Should the Ducks win, in other words, it would be all knotted in points, and the games played would be equal. Recall that for the longest time this season, some quirk in the schedule had the Ducks having played a couple or a few more games than many teams surrounding them in the standings. Now, there’s no room for guessing and no margin for mistakes.
The Kings took the first-period lead on a goal by Doughty.
The shots in the period were 16-10 in favor of the Ducks. The Kings had scored their goal on a mistake by Ducks’ defenseman Josh Manson. He had been skating towards the front of his own net, oblivious to what was going on behind him, chasing a Kings player. Meanwhile, Drew Doughty had taken a pass off a faceoff from Brown and Kopitar, and he was skating, skating, and skating some more to the front of the net. Finally, he opened his stick blade and flicked a puck to the net. It went through John Gibson’s arm and bounced down across the goal line. This was 6:01 of the period.
The Ducks responded immediately, Perry and Getzlaf taking the puck down ice. Getzlaf put a diagonal puck over to his twin, who redirected it. Just wide.
The game got a little chippy after that. The aforementioned two players shoved with Pearson and Kesler. Kesler kept chirping Brown the scrum broke up. Why were all of them on the ice at the same time? Changes. The line matchups were what you would expect them to have been. The only changes the two teams made were to remove Alex Iafallo from the Kings’ lineup. He is out with an upper-body injury. Other scratches were the usual. Andreoff out. Gravel out. For the Ducks, Kelly out. Vermette out.
The Ducks did take the game over around the twelve-minute mark, but to no avail.
Period two saw the Ducks Perry-Getzlaf-Perry duo streak down, pass the puck as just indicated, and Perry miss it and have it go into the corner. The action continued with Kase toe-dragging a puck and losing it, but regaining on the backhand and putting a shot on net. The Kings responded with a two-on-one where Kempe had Lewis with him but kept the puck. The defenseman slid, putting himself out of the play. Kempe waited. He then shot into the goalie’s leg pads. There was a rebound, but Montour was lucky to have it hit his skate and go back to Gibson’s pad for the cover-up.
The game got scrappy again. Phaneuf and Ritchie grabbed and jawed. Later in the period, it was Kesler and Brown again, after Ritchie took a puck to the net and ended up flying through the air while trying to get a shot to go.
After the game, IH talked to Ritchie about the physicality. “We’ve had games against them that have been more physical. It was so important that the fighting and stuff wasn’t going to take place. It was more important just to get the win.”
He would later add, “A lot of the games are the same. Just another Anaheim-LA game. Usually lives up to it, and especially when it’s with four or five games left and playoff stuff on the line.”
Josh Manson hammered Torrey Mitchell just inside the Anaheim blueline, a justified hit since Mitchell had the puck. But nobody put one past these two excellent goaltenders until Ritchie managed it with about three minutes left in P2. The puck came from the point off of Beauchemin, who put a blade on the puck, a shot that looked like it was intended for a rebound. Ritchie was in front, crossing the crease. The puck came off Quick’s equipment and right to Ritchie, who banged it in and skated to the corner. Quick was left lying down, reaching, on the play.
“When we’re in the offensive zone, we go to the net. We did a good job as a team of that tonight, and got rewarded there once.” Not “I scored,” and not active voice. Passive voice and first-person plural. Modesty, the code, whatever.
“They scored a goal, but I thought in the first period, we played well. . . . Once shot tied it, and we tied it, though it took a while.” Still no first-person singular pronoun.
The Ducks continued. Getzlaf went down the left side and put it over to Perry, who ripped one on net. Quick made the save.
The period ended with the Ducks on the power play, Martinez off for delay of game. They had 33.6 seconds left on the clock to work with. The immediately got to work, powering the puck to the net. Perry flicked the puck out to Kase, who missed it. For his trouble, Perry took a whack on the arm or perhaps a stab in the body. He flinched and started to bend over, but picked it up and skated out of the zone. As the period ended, he was still cruising around the ice. Derek Forbort passed him, and Perry stuck a stick up into Forbort’s face, obviously as retaliation.
The Ducks were outshooting the Kings 27-20 as that period gave way to the third. But aside from everything else going on, these teams had to be thinking about playoff aspirations. The Ducks started the week well and had gained points in six straight games (one OT loss), but they stunk up Vancouver on Tuesday, losing 4-1. The Kings had defeated Arizona on Thursday night with the backup goalie in net, and they were looking for their third straight win and fifth in seven (with an OT point thrown in). They were also looking over their shoulders at the other teams clustered with them in points.
You probably know who they are already, but here’s the whole list as the night began: LA with 93 points, Minnesota with 96, Anaheim with 91, St. Louis with 91, and Colorado with 90. All but one of them can make the playoffs. Right now, Colorado is the one outside. Well, right then when I wrote that, between periods two and three. They were shortly to post two points. See what follows here.
But. And this is big—the Avs come to California to play the Ducks and Kings back-to-back Sunday and Monday. They then go up to San Jose for the Sharks. Not an easy road, but if they beat both SoCal teams, we’d have to start all the math all over again.
So the third period saw these two teams begin 1-1 and the Kings shorthanded. The Ducks took no advantage of their power play, but they did get things cranked up as the frame wore on. The Cogliano line buzzed all over the offensive zone. The Getzlaf-Perry duo did some magic. And then with about 11 minutes to go, the Ducks flipped the “tempo” switch and started to roar.
The fans, many of whom were obviously enemies, started to roar. “Beat LA” came out in response. The Colorado score came onto the big board. There was a chorus of oohs and boos—neither of these teams wants the Avalanche to advance. For a period of time, the Ducks were behind Colorado and out of the playoffs. This would have been around the middle of the third period, when the Avs-Chicago game ended. The Ducks took over the third period.
The last eight minutes were furious. Kase held the puck all over the Kings’ zone. The Ducks were surely going to win.
Only Kempe had a break down the left side of the ice. He was stopped by Gibson. That was with a minute left. Then with 28 seconds left, a feed to Carter. He was in close, and Gibson made a glove save. It went to OT, thanks to the goalie.
In OT, the battle went both ways. The Kings outshot the Ducks 4-2, and on one particularly dangerous chance, Toffoli launched a rocket high and watched as John Gibson fought it off with his arms high up near his noggin. This was the best chance before the winner.
Getzlaf burst in for the Ducks, deked, lost the puck, recovered it, and shot—over the net.
Then with 19 seconds left, Rakell. He took the puck himself, wove through center, and shot past a screening Martinez from about twenty feet.
Here’s how he described the play: “There was not much time left, so I just tried to beat somebody up the ice, and tried to get the shot off full-speed. I just wanted to see what he gave me. I kinda knew pretty early I was going to shoot the puck. You just try to find a hole.”
And the shot: “He’s a great goalie. I just tried to change, when you shoot the puck, you’re just trying to change directions, and just hoping that it’s going to go in. . . . I got everything on that shot.”
There’s more to that than it looks. As he spoke, Rakell looked nervous. Two possibilities: He couldn’t quite get the words for “I changed the angle on the shot” or he was only reluctantly giving up the secret of what he’d done on the shot. Think about it—why would you want to create a book for the next goalkeeper to face you in a similar circumstance?
“We played good throughout the whole game. We played hard, and we created a lot of chances,” was how Rakell summarized the game.
Coach Carlyle said that the team will and may celebrate briefly, but that they have to quickly refocus on Sunday. They have four games left, and they have to have all the points. “It’s all about the next one. We’re going to have to park this, the emotions that we showed and the satisfaction that we get out of it, and get ourselves ready for the next one, because the next one is the real big one. You always have fun . . . but my mind is already on to the next one.”
Carlyle had the final word: “This is a typical LA-Anaheim hockey game, and it could have went either way. We were fortunate that we found a way to get one in overtime.”
Thanks to Steve Carroll, Ducks radio play-by-play announcer, who interviewed me between periods one and two on the NHL radio broadcast.