By Adam Brady
It’s a rivalry 20 years in the making, one that has developed into one of the most intense in the National Hockey League. And it gets taken up another notch this week.
The Ducks and Kings clash tonight for the 114th time in their histories, with the Ducks compiling a 49-41-23 record in those matchups. It’s a series that has even adopted its own name, the Freeway Face-Off, and no matter which arena the games are played in, there are always fans of the visiting team sprinkled into the sold-out crowd. While tonight promises to be another memorable battle in the usually compelling rivalry, the rematch two nights from now will be historical.
On Saturday (6:30 p.m. PT), Anaheim and Los Angeles will face off in the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series™ Los Angeles, a highly anticipated game played outdoors at Dodger Stadium. For both sides, it will be a unique experience to play the game outdoors in an environment usually associated with sunny skies and palm trees. But at its core, it’s another passionate battle between two geographic and divisional rivals that don’t like each other all that much.
“Anytime we play the Kings, it’s always exciting,” says Ducks winger Matt Beleskey, who has experienced the rivalry since his rookie year in 2009. “The fans are always into it and it’s always a hard-fought game. It’s something we always look forward to.
“It’s our biggest rivalry and they’re a very good team, so you always know when those games are coming up.”
Ducks winger Dustin Penner has been on both sides of the rivalry, having spent three seasons with the Ducks and three with the Kings (one of 22 men to play for both teams at some point). He won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007 and another in 2012 with LA, and he came back for a second go-round with the Ducks prior to this season.
“There’s a lot of familiarity with the other team, systems, players and tendencies,” he said. “It’s a unique experience for any player, especially in two cities that are heated rivals. I’ve played on both sides of this rivalry and there’s a lot of passion among its fans.”
Before debuting in the NHL, Ducks center Nick Bonino was a standout player at Boston University, and he likens the Ducks-Kings rivalry to the one he experienced between BU and Boston College.
“That was a huge rivalry, and it’s the same here,” says Bonino, who had a hat trick in a Ducks victory over LA in February of last year in Anaheim. “You know guys on the other team, but once you get on the ice, you’re not friends for 60 minutes. It’s a great rivalry to be a part of. They’re a big, strong team, and I think the thing that makes it even better is that we’re both successful teams.”
For a few years following the 2007 championship, Ducks fans could hold it over their Kings counterparts’ heads that their team hadn’t won a Cup since the team entered the league in 1967. But that all changed when the eighth-seeded Kings made their Cinderella run to the title in 2012.
“When they won the Cup a couple years ago, that hit us a little harder than it hit anyone else,” Bonino said. “It’s definitely a fun series to play in. The fans are loud, the rinks are loud and the players are amped up and ready to play. You know it’s going to be fast and physical and exciting.”
Despite their long history together, the Kings and Ducks have never faced each other in the postseason. In fact, the two teams had never qualified for the playoffs at the same time until 2011 (when all three California teams got into the postseason). The Ducks would have faced LA in the second round of last year’s playoffs, but were knocked off by the Red Wings in Game 7 of the opening series.
That could change this season, as the Ducks and Kings are both in playoff position, though Anaheim has maintained a notable lead over the Kings in the Western Conference standings so far. A playoff series would only amp up a rivalry that has already grown to combustible levels.
“You can tell it’s an electric matchup,” says Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. “The games are always a little more boisterous than normal home crowds. You can see the intensity on people’s faces. There’s just the general dislike for the opponent.”
DUCKS-KINGS AT A GLANCE
114 GAMES PLAYED ENTERING TONIGHT
Ducks’ all-time record head to head: 49-41-23
At Honda Center: 29-13-4
Number of Olympians this year: 13 (7 for the Ducks, 6 for the Kings)
Number of goals scored in the games: Ducks 325, Kings 325
Number of hat tricks: Ducks: 4, Kings: 0
Playoff records since 2005: Ducks: 39-30, Kings: 29-21
Cups won: Ducks 1 (2007), Kings 1 (2012)
Top goal-scorers in the series: Ducks: Teemu Selanne with 118 points (52 goals/66 assists) in 103 career games | Kings: Anze Kopitar with 43 points (15 goals/28 assists) in 41 career games
Players who have played for both the Ducks and Kings: 22
Total miles apart between Honda Center and Staples Center: 31 miles (feels like 131 with traffic)
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