If momentum means anything in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings are already at a tremendous advantage against their local rivals, the Anaheim Ducks, in the second round of the Pacific Division playoffs. The Kings, down three games to none to the San Jose Sharks, rallied back to tie the series and then captured Game 7 on Wednesday night, 5-1, in San Jose to become the fourth team ever to win a seven-game NHL playoff series after losing the first three games.
Whatever charge the Kings are likely to get out of that momentum, however, will probably disappear 10 minutes or so into Game 1 when the Ducks — who knocked out the Dallas Stars and have had some time off since — finally get a crack at their Southern California rivals. Anaheim is in its 21st season in the NHL, yet this marks the first time that Anaheim and Los Angeles have squared off in a playoff series. The much anticipated event is a gold mine for the league, with both teams in the Los Angeles market battling each other in a series that will rival the teams’ lone Stanley Cup runs and the Wayne Gretzky years with the Kings in terms of interest for the series. While the NHL would be wise to capitalize as best it can from a marketing standpoint on this once-a-generation playoff matchup, all of that is extra stuff to the players who should rightly expect a six or seven-game battle in this series.
As you would expect, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were the big guns for the Ducks in their series win over Dallas. Each had seven points in the six-game series, even though Getzlaf missed a game. Both were plus-3 skaters and combined for 22 hits. Watch out for Saku Koivu and Richard Rakell in the faceoff circle. That duo combined to 78-49 (61.4 percent) against the Stars on faceoffs, which allowed the Ducks more possession and scoring opportunities. Anaheim goalie Frederik Andersen seems to have taken the reins from Jonas Hiller, playing all but 41 minutes in the first round. But his numbers weren’t great, with a 3.40 goals against average and .892 save percentage. Anaheim could be in trouble if they have to rotate goalies against the Kings.
Los Angeles has no such issues in goal, with Jonathan Quick playing all but 18 minutes against the Sharks and getting all seven decisions. Quick and the Kings’ defense was questioned rightly after L.A. surrendered 16 goals in the first three games, but San Jose managed just five from that point on, leaving Quick’s 3.10 goals against average and .914 save percentage to be a little deceiving. If anything, he’s been better than that lately. Anze Kopitar was a beast for Los Angeles in the series with San Jose, racking up 10 points on four goals and six assists. He also dished out 17 hits and won more than 50 percent of his faceoffs. Justin Williams, who wouldn’t come to mind immediately as one of Los Angeles’ main offensive threats, also scored four times vs. San Jose (six points).
Both teams were very strong on the power play and in penalty killing during the first round, so there may be no clear advantage there. If Quick is on his game and the Ducks have to shuffle a bit between Andersen and Hiller, that would probably be enough to swing this series into Los Angeles’ favor. But no matter how it turns out, the NHL has a playoff matchup it could have only dreamed about until now, and it’s one that all hockey fans, not just those on the West Coast, would be wise to consider appointment television.