|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2014||[Print without images]|
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It caught the attention of Ryan Getzlaf and brought a smirk to his face.
"I saw the other night a couple walking on the street. And one had a Ducks jersey and one had a Kings jersey," Getzlaf said with a chuckle Thursday. "It's fun. Those are great things for us [to see]."
The Anaheim Ducks captain will once again see plenty of both teams' sweaters in the stands at Honda Center on Friday night as the NHL's first series between Southern California teams concludes the way it was destined to before the puck dropped two weeks ago: with a seventh and final game between two Cup contenders just so evenly matched.
A series that hasn't disappointed will end in the rink where it should, the atmosphere at Honda Center has been more memorable for the way in which Kings fans have invaded the enemy building, creating a soccer-like ambiance, the "Let's Go Ducks" chant responded in concert by "Let's Go Kings."
We were told before the series that Ducks fans don't like to go to L.A., and that's been proven right -- the fans in orange colors were in much smaller numbers at Staples Center compared to the Kings caravan at Ducks games, where at least a third of the crowd has been dressed in silver and black.
Kings superstar Drew Doughty just before puck drop in Game 1, while standing for the anthem, tilted his head up and down, stunned at just how many Kings fans were in the Honda Center stands.
"That was the loudest that I've ever heard it at game time," said Doughty after that Game 1 overtime win. "Actually, the Kings fans were great, you could hear them chanting, 'Go Kings, go.' In a visiting team's barn, I'm sure the other team doesn't like to hear that too much. We'll take it. It was great for California."
This whole fortnight of hockey has been sensational for these parts. The Ducks and Kings have taken out billboards in plain sight on freeways. There are Kings and Ducks flags on cars.
Nobody's pretending hockey has topped the crowded local sports scene, let's be serious. But there's been a noticeable bump in awareness.
|The series between the Ducks and Kings has raised the profile of hockey in Southern California.|
"I think the attention that's been given to it is going to be great for the youth that want to play," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said Thursday. "For the first time in 2½ years, if I walk outside other than the arena, people are opening their window and saying, `Go get 'em coach.'"
Ah yes, there's still a game to play. And for Boudreau, it's a game he so badly wants to win.
"I am due," the Ducks coach said Friday, referring to his career 1-4 record in seventh games.
As the Capitals coach, his team beat the Rangers in a Game 7 but lost to Montreal, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. And of course, there's last year here at Honda Center, where his Ducks lost to the visiting Red Wings.
With that painful experience, however, has come knowledge.
"You learn more every year you're in this league, every time you're in that situation; my Game 7 record wouldn't indicate that I've learned anything," Boudreau said with a smile, "but I tend to believe that I have and take different approaches. A couple of things that were done last year, I've already addressed that hopefully won't happen this year. You learn by experience."
It's been a contrast of personalities between the two coaches in this series. The Orange County Register fabulously labeled it "Gabby versus Crabby" before the series.
Given that Gabby is Boudreau's longtime moniker, you know where that leaves the stern-looking Sutter in that headline.
The Kings coach isn't a big fan of media conferences. But when the cameras are off and it's just a few of us talking hockey, Sutter can open up; he's got a wealth of hockey knowledge and is incredibly interesting to listen to as he dissects the game.
He's also confident. He knows his Kings team. He's won a lot of big playoff games with this squad, dating back to their 2012 triumph, more recently underlining their zest for drama by going 5-0 this spring in elimination games.
"I don't it know if it changed after you won the Cup," Sutter said Thursday. "I think you get to know them through the playoffs. You get to know guys who thrive in situations or want the challenge. It's a tough hill to climb. Every game becomes tougher as the playoffs go along. That's what happens. It sorts out your leadership group. It sorts out where your young players are at. We continue to do that.
"[That is what is] out of place a bit. We put [out] a lot of young guys. Everyone says, 'Well, you won the Cup three years ago,' We did, but you're putting a lot of young guys in or playing them differently, where you see if they can handle it or can't handle it. That's where you see ups and downs in their game."
The Kings seemingly have lived for this over the past three years, playing Friday night what will be their 52nd playoff game during that span.
"It's confidence," veteran Kings center Mike Richards said Thursday. "When you've done special things together, you have the confidence, no matter what happens, to do that again. That's a big thing in the playoffs. When you're down in a game, down in the series, you've been through comebacks and good things with the guy beside you. It's a good thing to lean on. It's a nice feeling to have, that you have the confidence to do whatever is needed to win."
The Kings have the kind of playoff knowledge so many teams would die for.
And yet, Sutter on Wednesday night tried to paint his Kings as underdogs ahead of Game 7, because the Ducks were 16 points ahead in the standings this season.
Um, pretty much nobody is buying that.
"You can ask anybody who they think the underdog is, and the underdog is us," Boudreau countered Thursday. "They've already went through five Game 7s in the playoffs already [in five elimination games]. They've been there. They've won the Stanley Cup. I thought it was pretty funny when Darryl said that, and he actually said it with a straight face. I don't know who he's trying to buffalo, but it sure isn't us."
Ah, the mind games.
"I'd say the pressure is on them," veteran Kings center Jarret Stoll said Thursday. "A lot of pressure is on their goaltender. A lot of pressure is on their entire team to win on home ice."
If the Ducks were feeling pressure, they weren't showing it Thursday. Getzlaf peered into a Ben Lovejoy media scrum at one point, pretending to blend in with the media.
This is a Ducks team that has grown a lot in 12 months since that Game 7 loss to Detroit. That doesn't mean they'll win Friday, but it means they won't have as much regret as they did a year ago when the Ducks felt they didn't leave it all on the ice.
"I think last year, guys were nervous," said Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano. "I can speak for myself: It was my first Game 7,and it's tough to know what to expect your first time. But I can say for myself and a lot of guys in this room: There's no point being nervous now. We've laid it on the line all series, we came back from 2-0, and bottom line is, we know that when we're successful we're going for it. You can see when we sit back we get dominated."
Don't sit back. Don't be tentative.
"That's what it's all about," said Getzlaf. "We got to [go] out and lay it on the line and play the game. We can't be afraid to lose. We got to go out and play hockey and play hard. Everyone in the locker room knows that, and we're well prepared for that tomorrow."