The Stanley Cup Playoffs Battle of Southern California has been realized for the first time. For the past few years it has been the Los Angeles Kings who were the toast of the region, winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 and making another deep playoff run last season. This time around, the Anaheim Ducks come in with home ice after finishing the season as the top team in the Western Conference. The past is past, though, and more than bragging rights in the region, these two clubs have eyes on a spot in the Western Conference finals.
The Ducks have been one of those teams that probably exceeded expectations after revamping the roster with some offseason trades, most notably shipping out perennial scorer Bobby Ryan. They were moves born more out of a need for flexibility after re-upping stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to long-term deals. That duo rewarded Anaheim by being one of the highest-scoring tandems in the league. The Ducks' remaining core has contributed to make this a rather exciting team.
The Kings just showed a level of resilience not often seen in the Stanley Cup playoffs. After falling to a 3-0 series deficit, LA pulled off the reverse sweep, becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to overcome the 3-0 hole. They also had a remarkable season as one of the league's best possession teams and stingiest defenses. Even as goaltender Jonathan Quick didn't have his best this season, the Kings were tough to beat night in and night out.
Now the two clubs square off in what should be a thrilling series. There is no shortage of star power with the aforementioned Perry, Getzlaf and Quick, but you have to throw in Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, who have been brilliant for the Kings. Watching this group of players all near the top of their games should be a real treat.
The Ducks got a good test from the Dallas Stars in the first round, which will definitely help going forward, but they face a playoff-hardened team in the Kings. That makes this series a tough one for the Ducks to win. That Stanley Cup in 2007 is a distant memory at this point and even though there are a few holdovers from that club, the Ducks' youth far outweighs the experience left over from that team.
That said, the Ducks can have some added confidence in the fact that they went 4-0-1 against the Kings during the regular season. They were all tight games, with only one being decided by more than one goal (a 3-0 win for Anaheim at Dodger Stadium in January).
There's plenty of intrigue in this matchup.
ANA Offense vs. LAK Defense
The Ducks clearly have two of the best offensive weapons in the entire NHL in Hart Trophy finalist Ryan Getzlaf and former Hart winner Corey Perry. The dynamic duo combined for 169 points in the regular season. There is a significant drop-off between those two and the rest of Anaheim's forwards however. That is what makes this matchup so dangerous for the Ducks.
The Kings are among the best possession teams in the NHL. In fact, they led the league during the regular season with a Fenwick for percentage of 56.7 percent. So why is that? The Kings defend as a team, for one, but more than anything, they manage the puck as well as any team in the NHL. So it's not just the Ducks' forwards against the Kings' defensemen. They have to contend with the Kings' offense being one of the most dangerous parts of their defense.
Doughty is having himself a phenomenal postseason in leading the Kings' resurgence against an incredibly deep Sharks team. Kopitar is a Selke finalist for a reason and has grown into one of the league's best defensive forwards. The Kings simply have the personnel geared toward playing a style of game that makes things very difficult on opposing teams.
To put it plainly, the Ducks averaged 27.8 shots per game in the opening round. The only three teams that generated fewer shots on net in the postseason were all eliminated.
The Ducks have enough firepower to steal a game here and there, but can they do it over a seven-game series? It would be incredibly difficult. If the Kings can successfully slow down Getzlaf and Perry, the Ducks are probably toast without anyone stepping up in a big way.
LAK Offense vs. ANA Defense
The Kings are going to give the Ducks a lot to handle offensively. Kopitar has been incredible in the playoffs at both ends of the rink. Justin Williams has been, like always, a top playoff performer. Then you throw in the fact that the Kings have a very active defensive corps when it comes to generating offense and you have an attack that can be overwhelming for the Ducks.
As noted, puck possession is a big key to everything the Kings do. The more you have the puck, the more you score unless the goalie at the other end is just stopping everything (which can and does happen in the postseason sometimes).
The Kings have scoring depth, which makes them a lot tougher to key in on. Adding Marian Gaborik at the deadline has proven to be a fruitful move as he had three goals and five points in the first-round series. Young Tyler Toffoli has the same stat line, while Jeff Carter has six points.
There are just so many more weapons at the Kings' disposal.
The Ducks have some solid veterans in Francois Beauchemin , Cam Fowler and Ben Lovejoy, while also getting strong performances out of rookie Hampus Lindholm, but this is a club that got pretty significantly out-possessed by the Stars. This is going to be a tough series if that happens against the Kings.
For about three games, most of you were probably beginning to wonder what happened to Jonathan Quick. Then the final four games of the series was vintage Quick. He allowed just five goals, all while making 30 or more saves in three of those appearances.
The Ducks meanwhile had a game of musical crease going. Frederik Andersen and Jonas Hiller saw time between the pipes with Andersen starting all six games against Dallas, but finishing only four. Hiller made 12 saves in the clinching Game 6 in relief of Andersen. The shakiness of that goaltending situation isn't exactly a great confidence booster.
Quick showed that he can be fallible in the playoffs after back-to-back years of brilliance in the postseason, one of which ended with the Kings winning the Cup and Quick the Conn Smythe. That said, the more recent games show he's in top form. That's scary for any team, regardless of who their own goaltender is.
This seems like another clear advantage for the Kings.
When it comes to special teams, both of these clubs have been among the best in the postseason. Anaheim converted on nearly 27 percent of its power plays, while the Kings were successful on 25 percent of their advantages.
Both were solid on the penalty kill as well. The Ducks turned away 89.7 percent of Dallas' power-play attempts, while the Kings killed 87.5 percent of their penalties.
Looking at the bigger picture, neither team was great on the power play during the regular season as both finished in the bottom 20 in the league in that category. Both were top-15 in the league when it comes to penalty killing, however.
This is probably going to end up being a push in this series, but it will be interesting to see if either can continue their playoff success on special teams.
|(1) Anaheim Ducks vs.|
(3) Los Angeles Kings
|Sat May 3||8 ET||Anaheim||NBCSN, TSN|
|Mon May 5||10 ET||Anaheim||NBCSN, TSN|
|Thur May 8||10 ET||Los Angeles||NBCSN, TSN|
|Sat. May 10||TBD||Los Angeles||TBD, TSN|
|*Mon May 12||TBD||Anaheim||TBD, TSN|
|*Wed May 14||TBD||Los Angeles||TBD, TSN|
|*Fri May 16||TBD||Anaheim||TBD, TSN|
|* if necessary|