x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Anaheim will not be able to duck the Kings this season

In a league where more than half of all teams make the play-offs the Ducks and Kings have never faced each other in the post-season.

Francois Beauchemin, right, clears the puck to help Anaheim goalie Dan Ellis against Calgary. Alex Gallardo / Reuters
Francois Beauchemin, right, clears the puck to help Anaheim goalie Dan Ellis against Calgary. Alex Gallardo / Reuters

The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks share the same megalopolis and very few fans. Theirs has been an 18-year rivalry of significant passion but marginal relevance. Until this season.

The Ducks were created in 1993 during the NHL's enthusiasm for planting franchises in the often unreceptive soil of the US Sunbelt, where hockey was widely viewed as something appreciated only by transplants and Canadians.

It had been the arrival of Wayne Gretzky in Los Angeles in 1988, and the Kings' subsequent emergence as a real player in North America's second-biggest market, after New York, that fuelled the NHL surge into new territories. That the Ducks, originally owned by Disney Co, owed their existence to the Kings was the first blow in what became a real but often overlooked rivalry.

The Kings became the team for hockey traditionalists who looked askance at that new team 50km south, originally named "the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim" in a crassly cross-promotional nod to the Walt Disney Pictures trilogy of kiddie movies that carried the "Mighty Ducks" label.

In 2005, as the Kings were going through a lost decade, Disney sold the Anaheim team.

The new owners dumped the "Mighty" from the name and reinvented them as a no-nonsense hockey club under the management of the dour Brian Burke.

In 2007, a Ducks team led by Teemu Selanne, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Rob Niedermayer won the Stanley Cup even as the Kings, never a champion in 45 years, burned with envy.

Through all this, a freakish "your-turn/my-turn" pattern of competence took root, and in a league where more than half of all teams make the play-offs the Ducks and Kings have never faced each other in the post-season for one very good and startling reason: they have never reached the play-offs in the same season.

However, this year both could advance. The Ducks defeated the Kings 2-1 in overtime on Saturday, a victory that lifted them into eighth and final play-off spot in the West. The Kings are fifth.

Jonathan Quick, the Kings' goalie, said: "I feel like ever since I came here there's always been a play-off-like atmosphere every time we've played them, no matter what time of year it was."

That "play-off atmosphere" could become reality, especially as the Kings and Ducks conclude things with two games against each other. One could clinch a berth in the play-offs while knocking out the other. That eventuality would be sweet for one club, bitter for the other and undoubtedly heighten the contentiousness between the teams in the NHL's best warm-weather market.

REVIEW

Players of the week
• Joe Pavelski, San Jose. The Sharks’ centre, below, scored three goals and had eight assists in four games, three of them victories.
• Ray Emery, Anaheim. The Ducks goaltender, back from hip surgery, stopped 61 of 63 shots and conceded only two goals in two victories.
• PK Subban, Montreal. Led all defencemen with six points on four goals and two assists for the Canadiens.

Teams of the week
• NY Rangers. They scored 17 goals while going 3-0 and jumping up to the seventh spot in the East.
• San Jose. The Sharks also poured in the goals, scoring 14 while going 3-0 and separating themselves from the pack in the West.
• Anaheim. The Ducks won three in a row, two in overtime, to move into eighth place in the West.

Duds of the week
• Calgary. The Flames picked a bad time to go cold, losing three of four games, one in overtime and another in a shoot-out.
• Nikolai Khabibulin, Edmonton. The goalie, 38, has leaked 10 goals in his past three starts.


PREVIEW

Series of the week
• Pittsburgh at Philadelphia, tomorrow. The Penguins must win over their state rivals if they want to finish top of the Atlantic Division.
• Montreal at Boston, tomorrow. One of these Original Six teams will win the Northeast Division. The Bruins hold a one-point lead over the Canadiens.
• Anaheim at Chicago, Saturday. Both the Blackhawks, the defending champions, and the Ducks are at risk of missing the play-offs.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae