Jonathan Quick

Ducks, Kings face off in the rivalry’s biggest game

Tonight’s game between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks is easily the biggest game in the 18-year-old rivalry. With 95 points, the Ducks are fighting for their playoff lives and can clinch a spot in the playoffs with a win against the I-5 rivals. On the other side of the rink, the Kings are trying to earn home-ice advantage in the 1st round of the playoffs for the first time since the 1991-92 season.

A win in tonight’s game by either team would go a long way towards each team reaching their goals.

People around the league, as well as in Southern California, have said the Kings/Ducks match-up would never truly reach its full potential until they were both good at the same time. The fact of matter is that there has never been a year when both the Ducks and Kings made the playoffs in the same season—let alone faced each other in the playoffs. But starting tonight, the teams will be playing in a game that has playoff implications for both. As Teemu Selanne noted to the LA Times, both teams being successful is good for hockey in the area:

“It has been unbelievable. We know the situation and so the last two games are going to be huge. It’s going to be fun. It’s like a mini-playoffs against them now.

“They clinched the playoffs and that’s awesome. That’s good for hockey here, so hopefully we both can be in there first time.”

 

Selanne is right: The home-and-home series to end the season is like a mini-playoff to finish out the year—but the games are far more important to the Ducks than they are to the Kings. The Kings have already punched their ticket to the dance and they’re just looking for a better dance partner. The Ducks still have work to get done if they want to make the dance as well. The easiest way to make the playoffs is simple: win. If the Ducks win either of their last two games against the Kings they’re in the playoffs. They can also make the playoffs if the Stars were to lose either of their final two games. They could even make the playoffs if they were to lose their final two games and the Stars win out—that is, if the Blackhawks were to lose their final two games in regulation against the Red Wings. There are plenty of scenarios, but everything can be simplified with this: win and they’re in.

Obviously, Anaheim is cutting it close with their playoff spot hanging in the balance in the last weekend of the season. But for hockey fans in California, this is what they’ve been waiting for. Bobby Ryan knows it:

“You always want to be a little more solidified going into the last two. But if there are any games to get ready for the playoffs, it’s certainly against the Kings. They bring out the best of us and I think we do likewise for them. It’s going to be a fun weekend.”

 

For the Kings, the stressful part of the stretch run was put to rest when they clinched their playoff spot against the Coyotes on Wednesday night. They can still finish anywhere from 4th – 8th place in the West—but at least they know they’ll be in the playoffs. One might expect the Kings to take their foot off the gas pedal now that they can relax, but each of the players said they are focused on the 4th seed and home-ice advantage. A pair of wins against the Ducks tonight and Saturday night would guarantee home-ice advantage for the first time in almost two decades. Currently sitting with 46 wins and 98 points, the Kings are one win away from setting a franchise record. The a win would also guarantee at least the 6th seed and would give the Kings their second consecutive 100-point season.

It’s not just the organization that has had a tough time earning the extra game at home. Ryan Smyth has never had home-ice advantage at any point in his eleven playoff appearances and is looking for the 4th seed:

“Any time you can get home ice in the playoffs, it’s crucial. That’s what you play the whole season for. It’s a big stepping stone for this hockey club. I think it dates back to when Gretz was there. That’s the last time they had home ice here, and I’ve never personally had home-ice advantage, so it would be nice to have that. That’s what you play the season for, and then after that you find out who you will play.”

 

Both teams have been doing everything they can to secure a playoff spot as of late. Lead by Hart Trophy candidate Corey Perry, the Ducks have gone 10-4 over their last 14 games and have five overtime wins over the last month. The Kings have fared slightly better with a 10-3-1 record over the same stretch of games even though they’ve lost their top two scorers during the run. Unfortunately for the Ducks, Ray Emery and his questionable status for tonight’s game means both teams could be dealing with injury concerns.

When speaking of the rivalry, Corey Perry called it, “two teams who don’t like each other during the regular season.” Well, the game tonight should have a little extra fuel on the fire as it’s the biggest game in the history of the rivalry. Then again, depending on how the game plays out tonight, tomorrow’s game could top it as the biggest game in the history of the rivalry.

Thank you schedule makers.

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    Goalie nods: ‘The losses have gotten to’ Dubnyk, so Wild turn to Kuemper

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    Devan Dubnyk has started Minnesota’s last four games — all of them losses — so in an effort to try and right the ship, head coach Mike Yeo is going with Darcy Kuemper against Dallas this evening.

    “This has definitely not been Dubnyk’s fault,” Yeo said of the Wild’s losing skid, per the Pioneer Press. “Even watching his game and evaluating it closely afterwards, I’m not going to say he’s playing badly. He’s not. But you can tell he’s grinding right now like everybody. The losses have gotten to him.

    “Kuemper has been part of this, but not to that level, so he’s probably got a little bit of a different mindset and a little bit of a fresher mind coming into the game.”

    Kuemper has been pretty solid this year, going 5-2-4 with a .928 save percentage and 2.06 GAA. That said, he’s only made four appearances in 2016 and his last was a brief one, playing just over 11 minutes in relief against the Isles.

    For Dallas, Kari Lehtonen is likely to get the start.

    Elsewhere…

    — No definitive announcements out of Boston, but Tuukka Rask is likely for the Bruins, and Jonathan Quick is likely for the Kings.

    — It’s Roberto Luongo for the Panthers in Buffalo. Sabres are going with Robin Lehner.

    Cory Schneider‘s going back-to-back for the Devils after stopping 35 shots in a loss to the Rangers on Monday. Cam Talbot starts for the Oilers.

    John Gibson is not going back-to-back after getting shelled by Pittsburgh last night. Frederik Andersen starts in Philly, Steve Mason for the Flyers.

    — Columbus will keep rolling with Joonas Korpisalo as it hosts the Islanders. Jaroslav Halak gets the nod after getting hooked against the Red Wings over the weekend.

    Ben Scrivens will look to win his third game in a row when the Habs host the Bolts. Ben Bishop‘s in for Tampa Bay.

    — Barry Trotz heads back to Nashville and will continue rolling with Braden Holtby in goal. Trotz’s former workhorse, Pekka Rinne, starts for the Preds.

    — It’s Connor Hellebuyck versus Brian Elliott as the Blues host the Jets in St. Louis.

    — Good matchup in Chicago tonight, as the in-form Corey Crawford starts for the ‘Hawks. The Sharks will counter with Martin Jones.

    — After Ryan Miller started the last four, Jacob Markstrom goes for the Canucks in Colorado. The Avs are starting Semyon Varlamov.

    — Fresh off today’s blockbuster Dion Phaneuf trade, the undermanned Leafs are going with James Reimer in goal in Calgary. The Flames will give Jonas Hiller another start after he beat Vancouver on Saturday night.

    Here’s what TCF Bank Stadium will look like for Minnesota’s outdoor game

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    What you’re looking at is an architectural rendering of TCF Bank Stadium for the upcoming outdoor game between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, Feb. 21.

    The current forecast for that day in Minneapolis is a high of 27° F and a low of 19° F, with only a 20 percent possibility of precipitation, i.e. snow.

    Which is to say, that guy in the Toews jersey is gonna be cold. At least roll up your sleeves, man. Don’t be a hero. 

    The game, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET, will be broadcast live on NBC as part of Hockey Day in America, while Hockey Night In Canada and TVA Sports will have the action for the folks up north.

    50 years ago today, the NHL’s ‘great expansion’ begins

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 15: The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers fight during the first period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 15, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Penguins 8-4. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    “This is the year of the great expansion. For the first time, the league will be composed of twelve teams.”

    Those were the words of former NHL president Clarence Campbell as he ushered in six new franchises to join the Original Six for the 1967-68 season.

    We only mention this because it was 50 years ago today, in 1966, that the league awarded conditional teams to Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul and St. Louis.

    (To read more, click NHL.com’s anniversary piece. The Los Angeles Times also has a story on the birth of the Kings, while CSN Philly remembers the Flyers’ beginnings.)

    For all you youngsters out there, San Francisco’s team, originally named the California Seals, ended up playing in Oakland, but not for long due to attendance issues. The franchise would move to Cleveland in 1976, where in 1978 it ceased operations and merged with the North Stars.

    The North Stars also eventually relocated, though that didn’t happen until 1993 when they moved to Dallas. The expansion Wild were born a few years later.

    Of the five surviving franchises of the “great expansion,” only the Blues have never won the Stanley Cup.

    The Flyers were the first expansion team to hoist the Cup. They did it in 1974.

    Related: Foley is ‘9.5’ out of 10 confident that NHL will expand to Vegas

    Malkin (lower body) to miss rest of week

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    Evgeni Malkin has missed Pittsburgh’s last three games, and now he’ll also miss at least the next two.

    On Tuesday, head coach Mike Sullivan announced that Malkin will be held out for the remainder of this week to deal with his lower-body injury.

    Malkin hasn’t played since registering two assists in a 6-5 win over Ottawa on Feb. 2, missing Friday’s 6-3 loss to the Bolts, Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Panthers and Monday’s big 6-2 whipping of Anaheim.

    The Penguins next play on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN), then again on Friday versus the ‘Canes. It stands to reason Malkin could very well miss the Monday, Feb. 15 game against the Panthers as well, as the Pens would be on a mini two-game road swing through Carolina and Florida, returning back to Pittsburgh for a Feb. 18 home date against Detroit.

    On the year, Malkin has 49 points in 49 games and had been producing exceptionally well prior to getting hurt, with 15 points in his last 13 games.