Ducks-Kings: This time it counts.

It’s tempting to assign that slogan, or some variation on it, to tomorrow’s installment of the “Freeway Face-off” at Honda Center.

After three straight years in which a win for the Ducks was just another win, and a loss for the Kings was just another loss, the two teams find themselves separated by just four points in the standings. That adds more significance to the game than any marketing-department hatched slogan could.

Chris Kunitz, however, made a good point at practice Tuesday.

“It doesn’t matter where anyone is in the standings, they’re close games,” said Kunitz, a five-year veteran of the Kings-Ducks rivalry. “One team never really walks over the other.”

Take last year, for example. The two teams split a pair of 4-1 decisions in London to open the season. Four of the remaining six games were decided by a single goal, another was decided by two goals and the other was decided by three. Somewhat lost in this competitiveness was the fact the Ducks went 6-2 against their foes from up The 5. So far this year, the Ducks have won three of the five meetings.

But both teams enter Wednesday’s game under unfamiliar circumstances.

The Kings are very much in the running for their first playoff berth since 2002, five points out of the No. 8 seed and having played fewer games (55) of any of the 11 teams separated by 10 points on the playoff bubble. To reach the postseason would be an overachievement for a fairly young, defensive-oriented team that was thought in September to be a year or two away, at best. Jonathan Quick, the 23-year-old starting goaltender, is 11-7-4 with a 2.44 goals-against average. As a team the Kings are ninth in the league in goals against per game (2.73).

To miss the postseason would be a severe underachievement for the Ducks. They are struggling defensively at 2.83 goals-against per game, 15th in the league, a stat that was skewed further in Sunday’s 8-4 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers. The game against the Kings is their last at home before a road trip of six games in 12 days, beginning Friday in Detroit.

“The two points,” Kunitz said, “are really important.”

After using a nifty collection of games in hand to maintain the appearance of being among the top eight teams in the Western Conference standings, the Ducks arrived at Honda Center for Tuesday’s practice alone in ninth place.

Kunitz said “most of us check (the standings) on a daily basis,” which hopefully lays fertile ground for Randy Carlyle’s pleadings to sink in at practice.

“There’s been an array of messages,” the coach said. “Like a full bouquet.”

This entry was posted in Anaheim Ducks/NHL by J.P. Hoornstra. Bookmark the permalink.

About J.P. Hoornstra

J.P. Hoornstra covers the Dodgers, Angels and Major League Baseball for the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Torrance Daily Breeze, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, San Bernardino Sun, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Whittier Daily News and Redlands Daily Facts. Before taking the beat in 2012, J.P. covered the NHL for four years. UCLA gave him a degree once upon a time; when he graduated on schedule, he missed getting Arnold Schwarzenegger's autograph on his diploma by five months.

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