Rivalries are as much a part of hockey as Zambonis and Hockey Night in Canada, and while the Pacific Division doesn’t have the storied rivalries like Toronto-Montreal, Boston-Montreal or Chicago-Detroit, the combination of the maturity of the division and the maturity of hockey in the region has allowed some respectable conflicts to develop.
One of those is the rivalry between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks.
While many outside Southern California are quick to write this rivalry off as media hype and something artificially “manufactured by Gary Bettman” so the NHL has something to hang on the mantle alongside Lakers-Clippers, Dodgers-Angels and the USC-UCLA rivalries, it would be foolish to do so. Especially now, when both teams are enjoying success in the standings and homegrown players from the area are participating in the rivalry, like Ducks forward Emerson Etem, a native of Long Beach.
In other words, contests between the Kings and Ducks have truly become a rivalry between Los Angeles and Orange County; pitting co-workers, friends and family members against each other. And if we’ve learned anything from rivalries in the NHL and sports in general, the passion gleaned from rivalries only builds stronger, more passionate fan bases, and when there’s stronger, more passionate hockey fan bases in places like Los Angeles and Anaheim, it’s good for the league as a whole.
While the rivalry has taken years to take root, it’s been punctuated in recent years by two major events.
2014 Stadium Series at Dodger Stadium
The NHL decided to take it’s outdoor game in a totally different direction and trade the TV shots of snowy stadiums and traditional markets for long views of beaches and storied Dodger Stadium as the Kings and Ducks took took their rivalry outdoors under a starry Hollywood sky.
Of course, the NHL put a uniquely Southern California spin on the game for the 54,099 in attendance. The popular USC Marching Band entertained fans before the game, ball hockey was played by local youth teams before the game and legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully helped with the pregame ceremonies.
Once the game got started though, it was all Anaheim. Corey Perry and Matt Beleskey opened the game up with goals, while former Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller stopped all 36 shots. Andrew Cogliano scored an empty netter to give the Ducks the 3-0 victory, spoiling the Kings’ big outdoor party in the process.
2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs
For years, as the rivalry was budding, pundits and players alike would say “just wait until these two teams get a chance to meet in the playoffs.” Well, that opportunity finally came for both franchises last Spring as they met in the postseason for the first time.
The Ducks would get home ice to start the second-round series, but it didn’t matter to the Kings as Marian Gaborik would score 12:07 into overtime to give his team a 1-0 lead and steal the home ice away from Anaheim. LA would win another game in Anaheim before returning home, but just like the Ducks won in Los Angeles in January, they would do it again in May, this time they were led by three different goal scorers as they avoided going down 3-0 in the series and beat the Kings 3-2.
The Ducks would continue the trend of the visiting team beating the home team in the series as John Gibson stopped all 28 shots that LA threw at him in Game 4 as he led Anaheim to a 2-0 victory and a 2-2 series tie. The Ducks would return home again and really put the Kings on their heels as former Duck Devante Smith-Pelly would score a pair of goals to help Anaheim to a 4-3 win.
But just like LA found a way back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Sharks in round one, they would find a way out of this round two hole. It would start with 21 saves on 22 shots from Jonathan Quick in Game 6 to help lead his team to a 2-1 victory on home ice and end with a six goal offensive explosion in Anaheim in Game 7 to clinch the series.
With both teams continuing to put quality teams on the ice each season and more homegrown talent finding their way up the hockey ladder, expect this rivalry to continue to heat up in the coming seasons.