Commentary

Adding fuel to California rivalry

Real rivalry can develop now that Ducks, Kings are set to meet in playoffs

Updated: May 1, 2014, 10:42 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- As far as practices go, especially at this time of year, the Anaheim Ducks held a pretty spirited one Thursday, seemingly by design given what awaits them in Round 2.

"Well, I think it's going to be physical so we were just getting them ready," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said after practice. "I think you need something like that before getting into what I think is going to be a pretty emotional series. Plus it looked like they were tired of practicing, they just want to get at somebody rather than being friends."

Oh, they'll get their chance to get at their foes, in the name of the Los Angeles Kings, as they prepare for a first-ever Southern California playoff series that has been a long time coming.

"The crowd is going to be into it, the players are excited, and I think California is excited,'' said Ducks star winger Corey Perry.

Here's the thing, California has had a mighty intense rivalry already over the past few years, the Sharks and Kings facing off in three of the past four postseasons and providing some pretty special moments.

The Ducks were the third wheel in the equation the last few years, watching from afar as their two California cousins beat each other up and created memorable moments.

[+] EnlargeDucks/Kings
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesThe Ducks beat the Kings in four of their five regular-season meetings, but L.A. is still favored to win the playoff series.

You better believe the Ducks want in on that action. And now they finally get it.

"You just watch that series [that] they just went through," Perry said of the Kings and Sharks. "Those first couple of games there were 120 hits, 100 hits. We know it's going to be a physical series. We know L.A. is going to come out and be banging, be physical and play their style of game. We just have to be ready to respond to that."

Added Ducks winger Matt Beleskey: "All that good stuff you saw in those Sharks-Kings series, it'll be the same with us. We're looking forward to it."

The Ducks-Kings rivalry was manufactured into one before it ever really became one. Oh sure, there have been some very good regular-season games over the years and the outdoor game at Dodger Stadium this year, but at the end of the day, as excited as the Ducks say they are to get in on this California playoff fun, the reality is that you don't feel like there's any genuine hate yet between these two teams.

It might only take one shift in Game 1 Saturday night, but it's not there yet.

"It's one of those things where the fans and the media build the rivalry to be more than the players in the locker room (feel)," Hart Trophy finalist Ryan Getzlaf said Thursday. "For us, they're another team that we have to go through to get to our goal. And it's going to be a tough series, we know they're a good hockey team."

What's so fascinating is that two weeks ago on the eve of the Sharks-Kings series, players on those teams were saying the exact opposite. One Sharks player in fact said that the media and fans didn't need to dress up the rivalry at all, because both teams had a genuine hate going. The rivalry was real where it mattered most: on the ice.

And that's because of having played in the playoffs the last few years. That's where a true rivalry is born. That's when the true hate grows.

"It does," agreed Getzlaf. "I've only known that from over the years here, any team you played in the playoffs, whether it's been Detroit or San Jose, you develop that hatred and that mutual respect where you got to go out and play hard every night. And it carries over to the regular season. But obviously now we're building a new thing here."

They certainly know what's coming. You better believe the Ducks were watching the end of the Kings-Sharks series, L.A. erasing a 3-0 series hole.

"I mean, to tell you the truth, I felt bad for San Jose when I was watching," Getzlaf said. "It's one of those things where L.A. showed a lot of character and experience, that's the biggest thing, those guys have a lot of guys in their lineup that have won a Cup together. When you have that, you have that belief all the time."

There's a clear level of respect for what the Kings have accomplished the last few years.

"The guys in their lineup, I've played with a few of them, I've played against a lot of them for a long time, and the one thing I would say about that lineup is that they have guys that play the right way," the Ducks' captain said. "It's not a disrespectful game, they play hard, they play honest, much like I think our guys do in this locker room. So I expect that in this series."

Just like the Sharks, the Ducks aren't being picked by most of the prognosticators despite finishing ahead of the Kings in the standings; playoff-savvy L.A. is a more popular selection.

Motivation for the Pacific Division-wining Ducks?

"Yeah definitely," Beleskey said. "It's never a bad thing to be an underdog. I don't know if you're [an] underdog though when you finish first in the Western Conference. But once you get into the playoffs, it doesn't matter where you finish. We saw what they did coming back from 0-3 to win that series is pretty huge. They're [on] a pretty good roll so we better be ready to go."

The Ducks can't afford anything but their very best game. The Kings are on the kind of roll that looks an awful lot like 2012.

"When they started playing, they were paying like they were when they won the Cup," Boudreau said of L.A.'s comeback against San Jose. "That's what I thought. They just kept coming and coming and didn't deviate from the way they played. And [Jonathan] Quick was looking more like Quick in the last four games than he did in the first three. Which is good for them, but not for us."

All of which puts more pressure on either Frederik Andersen or Jonas Hiller -- Boudreau wouldn't name his starter Thursday -- to match Quick as much as possible in this series, which is a tall task.

"A goalie can pretty much win a playoff series by himself and probably the biggest difference was goaltending in that series," Hiller said of the Kings-Sharks series. "I mean, we know whether it's me or Freddie, we have to play at our best to have a chance to move on. Seeing the guy play that well at the other end definitely pushes yourself to fight a little harder. It's exciting. It seems every game against the Kings turns into a goaltender battle even during the regular season. I'm definitely looking forward to it."

What's not to look forward to in this series?

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