Ducks host Kings in Game 1 of Freeway Series
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Freeway Series is set to make its NHL playoff debut on Saturday, as the Anaheim Ducks host the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
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. The Kings entered the league as an original expansion club in 1967-68 -- well before Bettman's tenure as commissioner -- but Anaheim, an expansion club in 1993-94, broke through first with a Stanley Cup title in 2007. L.A., of course, was able to join the same club by winning a Cup as an eighth seed in the spring of 2012.
Anaheim, the top seed in the West, finished 16 points ahead of Los Angeles in the Pacific Division standings this season and holds home-ice advantage at the start of this best-of-seven set. The Ducks also will host Game 2 on Monday before the series shifts to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4.
The Ducks went 4-0-1 against the Kings during the regular-season series, but a 3-0 win by Anaheim in L.A. on Jan. 25 marked the only encounter that was decided by more than one goal.
The Kings enter this second-round series only days after earning a slice of NHL history by combing back from a 3-0 series deficit to eliminate the San Jose Sharks. Los Angeles completed the monumental comeback with its fourth straight win over the Sharks on Wednesday, taking the series with a 5-1 rout in San Jose.
L.A. joined the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders and 2010 Philadelphia Flyers as the only teams to pull off the monumental comeback.
After winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 2012 and making it to the Western Conference finals last season, the Kings were already on the rest of the league's radar before the comeback, but the rally against San Jose is another reminder how dangerous this team L.A. can be.
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," Kings captain Dustin Brown said.
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.
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.
While Quick is the clear-cut No. 1 in the L.A. crease, the Ducks situation between the pipes is murky to say the least.
Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau made the controversial decision to go with rookie Frederik Andersen at the start of the club's first-round series against Dallas, but veteran backstop Jonas Hiller was in the crease when the Ducks finally clinched in Game 6. 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.
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.
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.
Boudreau also 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.
Brown, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli combined to score all seven goals for L.A. in the 2013-14 season series with the Ducks. Kopitar led the way with three markers and Brown added two.
Perry paced 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.
05/03 11:02:43 ET