Whether you’re a Ducks fan, a Kings fan, a hockey fan — or just a fan of round numbers — there are plenty of reasons to get worked up about tomorrow’s Kings-Ducks game (7:30 p.m. at Staples Center).
Considering the two teams have never qualified for the playoffs in the same season, the Kings and Ducks are approaching uncharted territory. The latest the two sides have ever shared space in the top eight was back on March 21, 2000. On that date the Kings had nine games left (34-26-13, fifth place in the Western Conference) and Ducks had eight games left (31-29-14, eighth place). The Kings wound up finishing fifth in the West that year while the Ducks finished ninth, four points behind San Jose for the final playoff berth.
Both teams were in the Western Conference’s top eight when play began Thursday; by the end of the night the Ducks had fallen to 10th without playing a game. With a win today, Anaheim would climb back into eighth place, even the head-to-head season series with the Kings at two games apiece, and come within two points of Los Angeles in the standings (85 to 83).
It will also be the 100th game between Southern California’s two NHL franchises.
But for Randy Carlyle and the Ducks, there’s a good reason not to get too worked up.
There will be another game less than 24 hours later against the Flames, and Calgary is currently the eighth-place team in the West. Only 10 games remain after that, and with every point at a premium, the whole one-game-at-a-time maxim will never be more important than it is now (unless the playoffs follow).
Maybe that’s why Carlyle wouldn’t volunteer much about his next opponent, other than this: “We have to recognize that we can’t expect them to play the same type of game they did against St. Louis,” he said. “I guarantee that.”
The Kings suffered a dismal 4-0 loss to the Blues on Thursday in which they had absolutely nothing, even by their own admission.
Carlyle thinks he knows why.
“I watched the Dallas and Chicago game last night, and the Chicago team looked tired. Simple as that,” Carlyle said. “There are games that that happen to your group that nothing seems to go right. I’m sure L.A. is looking at that saying that’s what happened to them. They were flat. We’ve had games like that with our group. How do you correct it, how do you guard against it? I’m sure if we had the answer that we’d be in a different spot than we are now.”
Another reason not to focus so singularly on one opponent: The Ducks play four sets of back-to-back games over the season’s final three and a half weeks, starting this weekend. Their ability to avoid a letdown on the second night, put simply, will determine their fate.
Even Ducks defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky — who played his first seven NHL seasons in an L.A. uniform after being drafted by the Kings in 2000 — didn’t believe the hype.
“It’s like a regular game for me,” he said. “I don’t think about the Kings.”