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Pro Hockey | Helene Elliott / ON THE NHL

Kings, Ducks Share in the Moment

November 30, 2002|Helene Elliott

It was like planets colliding, an extraordinary moment when the Kings and Mighty Ducks were both above .500 and involved in a meaningful game.

Their orbits have rarely aligned in the nine-plus seasons since the Ducks joined the NHL, a period the Ducks insist on calling a "mighty decade," the mathematics notwithstanding. If one was up, the other was down. If one zigged, the other zagged.

"In the past, it almost seemed like the points, not that they didn't matter, but one team or the other was out of reach when we played," Duck center Steve Rucchin said Friday. "Now, we're both fighting for the playoffs."

It might take a playoff series for this geographical rivalry to take on the passion it lacked during much of the teams' 2-2 tie Friday at the Arrowhead Pond. Of course, they would have to qualify for postseason play the same year, which won't be easy for either team, let alone both, in the tough Western Conference.

And maybe it will take on an edge because of something silly that happened Friday.

With the announced sellout crowd of 17,174 split about evenly between King fans and Duck fans, the Ducks' in-game entertainment officials decided to appeal to home-county loyalty and take a jab at the Kings during a second-period TV timeout. In a tasteless and poorly executed attempt at amusement -- games themselves not being deemed entertainment enough since ticket prices hit stratospheric levels the last few years -- the Ducks posted on their center-ice message board a list of five reasons why King fans sit together at Duck games.

Forgetting, of course, that if it hadn't been for the several thousand King fans in the stands, the building would have been emptier than it has been so often the last few seasons.

Most of the entries on the list were inane. One was inappropriate, especially during a post-Thanksgiving afternoon game with plenty of kids in the audience. None bears repeating. Perhaps the greatest sin of all, none was funny. And the ploy backfired, waking up King fans to cheer in defense of their honor.

Duck fans responded in turn -- or did they?

A King official later said the Ducks had piped in booing sounds because the natural noise wasn't enough, a charge the Phoenix Coyotes made against the Ducks two seasons ago after a game at the Pond. Doug Moss, the Ducks' senior vice president for business operations, denied having supplemented the crowd noise but agreed that the gratuitous shot at King fans on the scoreboard was a mistake, saying that won't be repeated.

"My idea was to try to get the home-ice advantage back," he said. "We've got a lot of King fans coming in here, and our fans are quieter. I'm not sure that's the way I want to go with it."

King Coach Andy Murray was clearly irked.

"What did they say, there's more room to stretch out and you have more chance to sit next to a King fan?" he said, referring to the Ducks' attendance woes. "That kind of stuff is not necessary."

Exactly. It wasn't necessary Friday, or ever.

After dwelling too long in hockey oblivion and missing the playoffs the last three seasons, the Ducks have finally gathered enough talent and mixed in enough good temperaments to be interesting and competitive. Thanks to the generous NHL rule that gives a point to teams that lose in overtime, they've even managed to stay with the West playoff pack.

As they've gotten deeper into the second quarter of the season they've accumulated 25 points in 24 games, eight more than at the same stage last season. The Kings, with 25 points in 23 games, are six ahead of last season's pace and are doing an admirable job of pushing forward while Jason Allison, Adam Deadmarsh, Ian Laperriere, Ken Belanger and Lubomir Visnovsky recover from injuries. Their depth has carried them, but the Ducks are on their heels.

"It shows the steps they've taken to get better," King center Bryan Smolinski said of the Ducks. "It's always nice to see those guys winning because it's good for hockey. I played in Boston with Adam Oates, and it's nice to see he's still kicking around.

"We've played some great games with them and if that continues, it will be a real rivalry."

A rivalry can exist only if one team has reason to fear the other might take away something precious. Each team poses that kind of threat to the other now.

"The last couple of years, we've been ahead of them but now the standings are close," King defenseman Mattias Norstrom said. "This was a tight game because both teams were really aware how important these games are."

Important enough to let the game be the thing, not sophomoric attempts at humor.

"I'd love to see both buildings full," Murray said. "It would be good for the Kings if the Ducks are selling out because it means there's more hockey people in the area."

When there's finally reason for each to respect the other, it serves no one to descend to stupidity. Why spoil the moment, when it's so rare and worth enjoying?

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