The saying goes, it is not a rivalry until two teams meet in the playoffs. That has been the lone aspect in the story between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks that has been missing all this time. But come later tonight that will finally be checked off as the two teams will meet in the Western Conference Semifinals.
This matchup is sure to push the rivalry between these two southern California rivals to another level. Every hit, every goal and every shift will have a little more meaning behind them. Although only thirty miles separates these two teams and they have faced off plenty of times, meeting in the playoffs will be unfamiliar territory for both groups.
So as the puck drops on this series and the series moves on game to game, here are five things to watch as we watch what is sure to be a tense action packed series.
1. Rest Versus Rust.
It happens every year, a team makes light work of an opponent and gets out of a series early. While other teams continue to play and try to advance to the next round. The Ducks are the first group. The eliminated the Dallas Stars in six games and have not played a game since April 27. That will put the Ducks at just under a week since they last played a game when the puck drops later tonight.
The Kings are quite the opposite. After going down 0-3 in their series against the San Jose Sharks they needed to win four games in a row and did just that forcing a game seven and eliminating their foes to the north. The Kings will have had three days to rest once the series starts.
Will the Ducks benefit from their long break, or will they come out of the gates slow? Will the Kings still be running on all cylinders, or will they look tired and banged up from a long hard-hitting series with the Sharks?
2. Kopitar Versus Getzlaf.
It is no secret who will get the majority of the ice time when Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf is on the ice. Anze Kopitar is the Kings, and perhaps the NHL’s, best two-way forward. He has been nominated for the Selke Trophy because of it.
Kopitar turned his game around after the first three game of the series and should receive much of the credit for the Kings turning around this series. When matched up against Joe Thornton and San Joe’s top line, Kopitar had a plus-8 corsi rating and an overall plus 13 corsi rating throughout the series.
Kopitar will need much of that success to transfer over against the Ducks if the Kings want to get to the next round.
3. Willie Mitchell’s Health.
The Kings are a defensive driven team. Play defense first and worry about the offense later. Mitchell is one of, if not the Kings’ top defensive defenseman.
Mitchell went down during game six against the Sharks after he went down awkwardly in the defensive zone. Mitchell missed the remainder of that game and all of game seven. Going into the first round it was Drew Doughty’s health that was under the microscope. This series it will be Mitchell who gets the attention if and when he returns.
4. The Kings’ Young Guns.
The Kings looked slow in the first three games of their series against the Sharks. Enter Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. The young studs provided a jump in the back-end of last series. The two provided four goals and eight points for the Kings over the course of the series. All four of those goals came in games four through seven of the series.
If the Kings want to be successful they will need those two to continue to produce and dictate the flow of the game.
5. Special Teams.
The Kings penalty likely saved their series against the Sharks. The Kings killed all fifteen, including six in-game seven, penalties in the three four games of last series and boast the fifth best penalty kill going into the next round. The Kings will need to shut down a potent Ducks power play if they want to be successful.
The Ducks scored on 27-percent of their players in their series against the Stars and sit in fourth in power play efficiency going into next round. Do not be surprised if who ever wins the special teams battle is the team that advances to the next round.