Weekend's must-see game? West showdown between Ducks, Kings
The marquee NHL game this weekend is a Southern California delight, as the Anaheim Ducks visit the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night with points in the standings rarely meaning this much to both clubs this late in the season.
After all, the two clubs have never made the Stanley Cup playoffs in the same postseason.
"We feel we have to be prepared to go in tomorrow night and play a playoff game," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle told ESPN.com on Friday.
The Ducks begin the weekend two points out of the top eight in the crazy Western race but only four points behind fifth-place Los Angeles with a game in hand. The two clubs wrap up the regular season with a home-and-home April 8 and 9. Marvelous.
"Playing the Ducks three more times, it's very crucial," Kings veteran winger Ryan Smyth told ESPN.com on Friday. "That's going to be a playoff atmosphere tomorrow night."
How the Ducks have managed to hang in this race without All-Star goalie Jonas Hiller for the past month and a half is beyond amazing. Hiller has appeared in two games since the break, sidelined by a case of vertigo.
But there has been progress of late.
"Four of the last five days have been good for him where he hasn't had any symptoms," Carlyle said.
Just don't ask the Ducks' coach what that means in terms of a possible return. He doesn't know yet; it's too hard to tell.
In Hiller's place, trade-deadline pickup Dan Ellis has held the fort with a 5-2-1 record. Then you've got Ray Emery, who capped his comeback from a career-threatening hip condition by winning his first start in the NHL in more than a year when he stopped 30 of 31 shots Wednesday against St. Louis.
"We have two guys who have come in and helped us," Carlyle said. "With Ray Emery's first start, we felt it was the right time for him. He had had enough time with four AHL games. He gave us a chance in the St. Louis game, made some big stops for us. But Dan Ellis has also had some big games for us. Where would we be without the insertion of Dan Ellis in our lineup?"
Carlyle, as usual, would not disclose his starter for Saturday night.
Goaltending hasn't been a concern in Los Angeles this season with the tandem of Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier providing standout work. But Quick had a moment to forget Thursday night when he gave up a goal from almost center ice to Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
It's the kind of goal that can sometimes play on a goalie's mind, but the Kings aren't worried.
"Things like that happen," Smyth said. "There's no concern. He's been outstanding all year long for us. We'll see him bounce back for sure. At the start of that game last night, he was phenomenal. He made some outstanding saves for us. He gave us a chance."
Carlyle knows what to expect from the Kings, who will be hungry to erase the memory of Thursday night's stinker, a 4-0 home loss to St. Louis.
"We know what kind of hockey club they have," Carlyle said. "They won all four games on their road trip before last night. We know they're going to look to rebound from their performance. ... We were fortunate to get by St. Louis ourselves the other night. We have to play better than that."