While the Anaheim Ducks appear to have a stranglehold on the second seed in the Western Conference playoff chase, the Los Angeles Kings are in a dogfight to secure the fourth seed and home ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
When the two teams meet again tonight at 8 p.m. PT on Prime Ticket, it marks the fourth and final regular season meeting, and the players will tell you the rivalry is at an all-time high.
“There is always ‘hatred’ when you play the Kings. You have to. We’ve been playing them for years. They are one of the teams you have to go through if you want to win a championship,” said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.
“It’s a huge game every time we play them. The fans really get up for it. It’s a big two points for us,” said Kings center Mike Richard.
Enemies on the ice, the Ducks’ Bobby Ryan and the Kings’ Anze Kopitar, have become close friends off the ice. The two developed a friendship during the recent NHL lockout when they played for Mora IK in Sweden’s second-highest league.
“We stay in touch. We’ve shot texts back and forth all season. He’s a good guy. It’s one of those things when you don’t know the guy, you just don’t know what type of person he is until you get to hang out. I got to know him pretty well over the few months that we played together. We had a great time playing together in Sweden,” Kopitar said.
Now, as the two are set to do battle Saturday night, Ryan and Kopitar have also have the task of playing host this week to their former Swedish teammates.
“It started with 12 guys who were going to make the trip and then it grew to 17 or 18. The deal was they took care of their flights and me and Kopi will take care of their hotel rooms and seats for the games. I don’t think these guys have ever seen a game that will have the intensity of our rivalry,” said Ryan.
“It’s great. I don’t think any of them have been to Los Angeles before. I am sure they have been enjoying things so far and catching a few NHL games doesn’t hurt either. They were down in Anaheim earlier in the week to watch the Ducks and Saturday night, they will be at Staples Center for our game. It’s going to be nice to see them again,” Kopitar added.
Saturday night also marks the first-ever game for Ducks forward Emerson Etem at Staples Center. The Long Beach native who grew up as a Kings fan will make his first trip to Staples Center since he was selected 29th overall by the Ducks at the 2010 NHL Draft in Los Angeles.
“I always grew up watching the games and now to be playing in them is something special. The games have that playoff atmosphere. It’s going to be my first time playing in Staples Center and it’s going to be a neat experience. I still remember the ovation I got when the Ducks selected me at the draft. It’s a feeling I will never forget,” said Etem.