On Saturday night, history will be made in Southern California as the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks battle at the Honda Center in Game 1 of the first playoff series ever contested between the two teams.
For the Ducks, they will be looking at building off of the momentum generated when they stunned the Dallas Stars in a 5-4 overtime victory to finish off their first round series, and they will also be looking to answer some big questions as they take on a Kings team with an equal amount of wind in their sails.
For starters, the Ducks haven’t fully committed to a starting goaltender just yet. Frederik Andersen played the vast majority of their series against the Stars, but he was pulled during the Game 6 victory after surrendering four goals. Jonas Hiller came in the game and slammed the door for the rest of the game, picking up the win and causing head coach Bruce Boudreau to ponder what he wanted to do about his newfound netminder problem.
Outside of uncertainty in the crease, the Ducks have quite a few things working in their favor. For starters, captain Ryan Getzlaf, recently nominated for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, came back strong from an injury that kept him out of Game 4 of the Dallas series to rack up a team high seven points in the first round triumph. Nick Bonino has also found his scoring touch in a big way, scoring three goals in the previous series to lead the team in that category.
Bonino is just one of the many Ducks players who are lending a helping hand to their incredibly balanced scoring attack. 13 different Ducks players scored a goal in the Dallas series, and several unexpected names were able to light the lamp on more than one occasion. Devante Smith-Pelly heads that list, as he scored twice in Game 6, including the game-tying goal with just 24 seconds remaining. Center Mathieu Perreault also got in on the action, scoring two power play markers in the series to help out on special teams.
Perhaps most importantly of all, the Ducks’ special teams units have been playing at a high level during the postseason’s early weeks. Their power play racked up seven goals during their series against the Stars, including three in a key Game 5 victory that gave them a pivotal 3-2 edge in the series. Their 26.9% success rate has got to be a source of pride for the team, as does their 89.7% success rate on the penalty kill. With skilled defenders like Francois Beauchemin and gritty forwards who are capable of pressuring puck-handlers all over the ice, the Ducks are in prime position to slow down a Kings’ attack that really got going in a big way against the Sharks.
Keeping the special teams churning and making sure that they continue to get depth scoring are both going to be crucial for the Ducks if they are going to be able to take down the experience-laden Kings in this series. Los Angeles has the goaltending and the veteran savvy to take down any playoff series, and even though the Ducks had a great deal of regular season success against their neighbors at Staples Center, it’s going to take a lot of hard work to knock them off and advance to the Western Conference Final.