On Saturday, May 3, 2014, the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks will meet in the postseason for the first time. This is a rivalry some 20 years in the making. When the Anaheim Ducks came into the NHL in 1993 ( as the 'Mighty Ducks of Anaheim' ), the Kings were coming off a first ever run to the Stanley Cup final. Including that season, these two teams have since combined for six trips to the Conference final, three trips to the Stanley Cup final, and two Stanley Cup championships, but despite playing in the same Conference, had never met in the playoffs. Anaheim won the Cup in 2007, Los Angeles won the Cup in 2012. Staples Center (home to the Kings) and Honda Center (home to the Ducks) are separated by less than 31 miles. This meeting came within a whisker of happening last season, but vaporized when the Ducks lost Game 7 to Detroit in the first round. Had the Ducks won that game, they would have met the Kings in round two. It almost didn't happen this year either. The Kings found themselves in a 0-3 series deficit to the San Jose Sharks, and had to win four straight to make it to the second round, thus setting up this clash of titans.
There is a palpable buzz around this series. This is not only the first ever playoff meeting between these two NHL franchises, but it is the first ever playoff meeting between any two southern California based franchises in any professional sport. It not only will set that precedent, but the So Cal fans can look forward to this happening with much more frequency, and here is why. As of this season, the NHL went to a new divisional playoff format. The 30 teams were divided into four divisions. The Kings and Ducks are in the Pacific division along with the San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers. The top three regular season teams in each division, qualify for the postseason, with the other two playoff spots going to wildcard teams. The first round pits a division winner against a wildcard team, while the #2 and #3 seeded division teams meet in a separate series. The winner of 2 vs 3 then plays either the #1 seed, or if there was an upset, the victorious wildcard team.
It took 20 years for the first meeting, but we are likely to see multiple meetings within the next 5-10 seasons. The new playoff format means that if the Kings and Ducks finish second and third in the division, they will meet in the first round, otherwise there will very likely be a meeting in the second round. Given the relative strength of these two teams, it is hard to imagine either of them not finishing in the top three in the division any time soon. Rivalries are made in the playoffs, not in the regular season. For So Cal hockey fans, this may turn out to be an eagerly anticipated annual spring ritual. The other by-product, is that regular season games will become more intense, as both teams will be looking to establish dominance and a psychological edge during every regular season game, particularly those played in the second half of the season.
This 2014 meeting is the classic high-powered offensive team against the stingy defensive team. The Ducks have a 2014 Hart trophy finalist (Ryan Getzlaf) at center ice. The Kings have a 2014 Selke trophy finalist (Anze Kopitar) at center ice. The Hart trophy is awarded to the regular season MVP. The Selke is awarded to the NHL's best defensive forward. Add to this, Ducks' forward Teemu Selanne is playing in what will be his final NHL postseason. He decided to come back for one more season, because of the team's potential.
Perhaps it was said best by Ducks' defenseman Ben Lovejoy when after the Ducks' morning skate, he was asked about what it will take to compete and be successful against the Kings, he replied in part, "We have to have our brains turned on." Indeed. This will no doubt be a physical series, but ultimately it will be won above the shoulders, not below. Discipline is the key. Game 1 is 5:00 pm PT on May 3, 2014. After all these years, it's on.
Series schedule - Gm1 (@ANA) Sat May 3, Gm2 (@ANA) Mon May 5, Gm3 (@LA) Thur May 8, Gm4 (@LA) Sat May 10, Gm5 (@ANA) Mon May 12, Gm6 (@LA) Wed May 14, Gm7 (@ANA) Fri May 16