ANAHEIM, Calif. — The notion that rivalries are only for the fans and not for the players was shot down Thursday night in Anaheim.
The Ducks came back from a one-goal deficit to beat the Kings 2-1 in front of a sellout Honda Center crowd in the second matchup of the five-game Freeway Faceoff series. It was a gritty, physical battle that made for a playoff-like atmosphere that only served to build up the drama between the two going into Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium.
"Every time we play this team, it’s a man’s game and you better be prepared to hit and be hit because they’re so good," said Ducks’ head coach Bruce Boudreau. "We had 48 hits tonight, which is a team record. You have to play that way against these guys."
"It was a good hockey game," said Kings’ head coach Darryl Sutter. "You go on the road and you win a period, lose a period, tie a period. Pretty good hockey game."
It was a big two points for the Ducks, as they came off their first home regulation loss of the season Tuesday night, falling at the hands of the Jets. They increased their lead in the league and the Western Conference to five points and their lead in the Pacific Division to nine.
But more importantly, it fueled the fire of the rivalry only two days before their biggest matchup of the season.
The Kings are currently 17 points back in the division, but no matter what the deficit is now, the feeling in the Anaheim dressing room is that it’s crucial to continue to beat them not just now, but in their next three meetings as well.
"This is a team that we need to go through to win the Stanley Cup," said Anaheim defenseman Ben Lovejoy. "They’ve won the most recent Stanley Cup in the rivalry and until we knock them out of the playoffs or out of (contention) they do have the upper hand. One game in January doesn’t tilt the tide in our favor but it’s definitely better to beat them now than not."
The Kings’ first line of Trevor Lewis, Dwight King and Anze Kopitar produced right away when Kopitar scored off a feed from King just over three minutes into the game. L.A. had the advantage in the first period, outshooting Anaheim 13-4, which was a number that did not sit well with the Ducks.
"We knew the first period wasn’t good enough," said Patrick Maroon, who scored his first career game-winner late in the second period. "After we got pucks in deep in the second period, we were physical, all over the ice, working down low. We knew they’ve played a lot of games these past three days and we just did what we needed to do."
Special teams were nearly non-existent for both teams until Dustin Penner scored on the power play to tie the game at 1-1, equaling the amount of power play goals that he scored in 117 games with the Kings. But the Kings had four chances and failed to convert.
"We lost the special teams battle again, which is crucial," said Kings right wing Justin Williams. "We got the lead, which was important, but we weren’t able to get the next one with the power plays we had. We didn’t get it done. Gave them two easy goals in front of the net."
The stage is set for a historic battle in a historic setting, Saturday night at Dodger Stadium.
"We should have some fire in our belly and be upset," Williams said. "You have a home-and-home with a team, especially a team in our division and the top of the league right now, you better have some fire in your belly and we’ll have that."