They say a hockey rivalry isn’t official until two teams meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs. And while anyone who has been to a game between the heated freeway nemesis Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings can assure skeptics the rivalry between the two teams, and perhaps even more so the starkly different fanbases, is alive and well, many critics have been waiting for a playoff collision to call it this the real deal.
In a gift seemingly from the hockey gods themselves, the Ducks and the Kings will meet Saturday night in Anaheim for what is suspected to be the most brutal of second round series in the entire playoffs.
As with any of the current series, who will win is a matter of predicting from history and speculation. But if the Ducks can stick to what this team has perfected throughout the season, they might just actually end up with the bragging rights to Southern California hockey by the end of this round.
But what makes the Ducks the superior team? Well, almost everything, really.
The Ducks play a fast, accurate and highly offensive game. What puts Anaheim a step above opponents is a depth solid enough to threaten offensive, neutral and defensive zones for a full 60 minutes; against the Ducks there is next to no room for error.
While the Kings often need the full effort from the team’s best players, the Ducks have made a season of headline grabbing wins (including a few against Los Angeles themselves) off the team’s ability to rely on secondary scoring when top liners Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have an unusually off night.
Despite the Kings’ minimally offensive game with one of the best defensive structures in the entire NHL, winning three of four meetings between these two teams during the regular season (including a shutout win for Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller in January outdoors at Dodgers Stadium) should give Anaheim enough confidence to skate out on Saturday night and get the series rolling in their direction.
The Ducks also have the value of rest on their side. Anaheim finished their first round series against the Dallas Stars on Sunday evening, while the Kings finished just Wednesday, having played all seven games of their series against the San Jose Sharks. A minor detail indeed, but when it comes to the California Freeway Face-Off it’s usually the minor details that determine the game.
Playoff series never actually go as predicted. Remember when most critics thought the Kings would take the Chicago Blackhawks last season? It’s okay; the Stanley Cup winning team does as well. But one thing is almost guaranteed: If the Ducks stick to the game they play best, they are punching their ticket to the Western Conference Finals. The only question remaining is if they can do just that.