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Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Anaheim vs. Los Angeles
By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 54-20-8 (1st Seed - West)
2014 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Dallas 4-2 in conference quarterfinals
(SportsNetwork.com) - By virtue of escaping the first round, the 2014 postseason is already more successful for the Anaheim Ducks than last year's disappointingly short playoff run.
Anaheim was the second seed in the West in 2013, but was promptly knocked out of the first round by the Detroit Red Wings. This spring the top-seeded Ducks survived a scare from Dallas in Round 1, eliminating the Stars in six games.
The Ducks almost were pushed to a decisive seventh game by Dallas if not for a furious comeback to win a road Game 6 in overtime. The Stars led 4-2 heading into third period before Anaheim scored twice in the final 2:10 of regulation and winning it 5-4 early in overtime. Nick Bonino scored two of the game's final three goals to help the Ducks pull off the comeback and end the possibility of being the victim of another first-round upset.
Bonino tied for the team lead with three goals in Round 1, but Anaheim's best player in the series was Hart Trophy finalist Ryan Getzlaf.
The star centerman notched three goals and four assists against the Stars despite missing Game 4 due to a lower-body injury. Getzlaf returned to the lineup in Game 5 no worse for wear and helped spark a 6-2 rout with a one- goal, two-assist performance.
Getzlaf's linemate Corey Perry also had a solid first round, notching two goals and five assists to match his centerman for the team scoring lead in Round 1.
All told, the Ducks spread out the goal-scoring against the Stars with 13 different players hitting the net. In addition to Bonino, Getzlaf and Perry, forwards Mathieu Perreault and Devante Smith-Pelly also added multiple goals with two markers apiece. Perreault missed Game 6 with a lower-body injury and is questionable for the opener of this series.
Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau created a minor firestorm when he made future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne a healthy scratch in Game 4. The move may have paid off, however, as the 43-year-old Finn, who is expected to retire after this season, posted two assists in Game 6 after notching just one helper over his first four games of the series.
Boudreau also made the controversial decision to go with rookie Frederik Andersen at the start of the Dallas series, but veteran backstop Jonas Hiller was in the crease when the Ducks finally clinched. Boudreau said he knows who will start in Game 1 against the Kings, but isn't making his decision available for public consumption.
While Andersen started all six games in Round 1, Hiller was called upon to replace the 24-year-old on two occasions, including the Game 6 comeback win. Andersen was pulled after allowing four goals on 12 shots in that final game and Hiller stopped all 12 shots he faced to earn the series-clinching victory.
Hiller is 11-10 with a 2.24 goals against average and .936 save percentage in 22 career playoff appearances. Andersen went 3-2 with a 3.40 GAA and .892 save percentage against the Stars in a rough introduction to the NHL postseason.
Playing in front of either goaltender is a defensive corps that is talented but green when it comes to playoff experience. Anaheim's back end became even younger after veteran Stephane Robidas suffered a broken leg during Round 1 and was lost for the rest of the playoffs.
Francois Beauchemin, 33, is the elder statesman of the Anaheim blue line and he led the group with an average ice time of 24 minutes, 47 seconds against the Stars. He also was tops among Ducks defensemen in scoring, recording four assists.
Like Beauchemin, Bryan Allen is also 33 years old. However, Allen has only seen action in 20 career playoff games compared to Beauchemin's 74 postseason appearances. Ben Lovejoy is another 33-year-old, but only has 22 career playoff games under his belt following Round 1.
Allen and Lovejoy provided the only goals from Anaheim's defense in the opening series, each scoring once.
Cam Fowler, 22, was second to Beauchemin in ice time (23:58) in the first round and also added two assists. The 20-year-old Hampus Lindholm, who like Fowler is a recent first-round pick by Anaheim, played in the first four games before sitting out the final two contests with a stiff neck. Lindholm is questionable for the start of this second-round series.
The Ducks ranked 22nd in power-play efficiency during the regular season with a success rate of 16 percent. Anaheim improved that number dramatically in Round 1, scoring seven times on 26 chances with the man advantage for a success rare of 26.9 percent.
Anaheim also killed off an impressive 26-of-29 Dallas power plays and is hoping it can continue to excel on special teams in the second round.
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 46-28-8 (3rd Place - Pacific)
2014 PLAYOFFS: Defeated San Jose 4-3 in conference quarterfinals
The Los Angeles Kings were already one of the most feared teams in the league. They are looking like an even scarier matchup heading into the second round thanks to a thrilling comeback against the San Jose Sharks.
The Kings, winners of the 2012 Stanley Cup and Western Conference finalists last season, put the rest of the league on notice by coming back from a 3-0 series deficit against the Sharks to advance to the Western Conference semifinals. By winning four straight versus San Jose, the club joined the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders and 2010 Philadelphia Flyers as the only teams to pull off the monumental comeback.
Despite dropping the first two games in San Jose by a combined score of 13-5 and losing a home Game 3 in overtime, the Kings came back from the brink of elimination to survive and advance.
"It was a result of us staying together as a group of guys. When you've gone to the top of the mountain with the same group of guys it's a little bit easier when you're at the bottom to come up," captain Dustin Brown said.
The Kings clawed their way back by following the path laid out for them by head coach Darryl Sutter, who demands strict adherence to his defense-first style of hockey.
Sutter's system isn't exciting, but it obviously gets results. L.A. was the top defensive team in the league during the regular season, allowing an average of 2.05 goals per game. After getting torched for 17 goals in losing the first three games against San Jose, the Kings righted themselves and allowed the Sharks to score just five times the rest of the way.
By the end of the series even the Kings offense was rolling. L.A. outscored the Sharks 12-2 over the final three games, shrugging off a regular season average of only 2.42 goals per game.
The historic comeback was a total team effort, but it may not have been possible without Jonathan Quick's play in the crease. The 2012 Conn Smythe winner posted a save percentage of .963 over the final four games against San Jose and that number jumps to .979 over the last three contests.
Over 57 career postseason games, the 28-year-old Quick boasts a 2.15 GAA and .927 save percentage. Including eight shutouts, the American netminder has held the opposition to one goal or less 21 times during his standout playoff career.
Drew Doughty is the Kings' undisputed No. 1 on the blue line and he's one of the most dangerous defenseman in the league. While leading his team with an average ice time of 26:31 in the first round, Doughty managed to record seven points (1 goal, 6 assists) against the Sharks. Jake Muzzin wasn't too far behind in point production from the back end, posting two goals and three assists in the series.
Slava Voynov, 24, added a goal and an assist in Round 1 while finishing second to Doughty in ice time (21:07).
Sutter's solid defensive corps also includes steady veterans Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr, although Mitchell's status for Game 1 against Anaheim is uncertain. Matt Greene replaced Mitchell, who is battling a lower-body injury, in Game 7 against the Sharks and could start at the beginning of the second round.
L.A.'s forward group is marked by its balance, but it's becoming pretty clear Anze Kopitar is the club's best weapon up front. One of the most underrated players in the league, the Slovenian centerman is a menace at both ends of the ice. He tied for the NHL scoring lead in the opening round, producing 10 points off four goals and six assists.
Like Kopitar, Justin Williams is another productive player who somehow escapes the limelight. Williams tied Kopitar for the team lead in goals with four markers against the Sharks and he also added two assists.
Williams is a former Philadelphia Flyer, as are fellow Kings forwards Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Carter, a proven sniper, had two goals and four assists in Round 1. Richards, a steady, two-way player, only posted one assist in the series, but he seemed to come alive in Game 7 against the Sharks, registering eight shots on net in the decisive victory.
The Kings had 12 players score a goal against the Sharks and eight of those skaters notched two or more goals. Veteran winger Marian Gaborik, a trade deadline acquisition, had three markers, as did centerman Tyler Toffoli.
L.A. ranked 27th in the league on the power play during the regular season, but was 11th-best in killing penalties. The Kings killed off 28-of-32 San Jose power plays in Round 1, while scoring six times on 24 chances with the man advantage.
The new format unveiled for the 2014 playoffs was designed to force more geographical rivalries in the first few rounds. It certainly has paid off with this matchup, as these two Southern California rivals get set to meet in the postseason for the first time.
The Ducks and Kings are shining examples of Gary Bettman's dream that hockey could work on the West Coast. Anaheim broke through with a Stanley Cup title in 2007 and several years later L.A. was able to join the same club. This series puts SoCal bragging rights up for grabs and places West Coast hockey at center stage.
Anaheim went 4-0-1 against the Kings during the regular-season series, but a 3-0 win by the Ducks in L.A. on Jan. 25 marked the only encounter that was decided by more than one goal.
Brown, Carter, Kopitar and Toffoli combined to score all seven goals for L.A. in the 2013-14 series, with Kopitar leading the way with three markers and Brown adding two.
Perry led the Ducks with two goals and two assists in the season series, but Getzlaf only had a goal and an assist over five games.
Both of Boudreau's goaltending options fared well against L.A. this season, with Andersen going 3-0 with a 1.62 GAA and Hiller posting a sparkling 0.96 GAA to go with a 1-0-1 record. Quick was 0-2-1 with a 2.30 GAA in three games for the Kings.
Since winning it all as an eighth seed in 2012, it's become fairly obvious the Kings are built for the playoffs. L.A. lost to the eventual champion Blackhawks in six games during last season's Western Conference finals, and it doesn't seem like the Ducks will be able to prevent the Kings from making a return trip to the third round this spring.
In comparison with the Kings, Anaheim is top-heavy on offense, a little green on "D" and the goaltending situation is less than ideal. Expect the Ducks to stay close in some games, but L.A. is simply too good to ignore at this time of year.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Kings in 6
05/02 11:43:56 ET