Kings goalie Jonathan Quick makes a save in front of Ducks forward Jason… (Kelvin Kuo / U.S. Presswire )
Eighty-one games into the 17th season of the Kings' and Ducks' coexistence, the two teams finally made the playoffs in the same season.
The Kings secured their spot Wednesday. The Ducks beat them Friday to join them, turning Saturday's season-ending rematch at Staples Center into a chance to determine placement.
"It is amazing when you have to play 81 games to find out if you'll make the playoffs — and you have 97 points," Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said. "I said before the year began you'd need 100 points to make the playoffs in this conference and that's what's playing out here."
Neither team held back Saturday. The Kings started No. 1 goalie Jonathan Quick, and the Ducks played a full lineup except for ailing center Todd Marchant and injured goalie Ray Emery, who Carlyle said is expected to return for the playoffs.
"There's great significance to the game. We want to finish as high in the standings as we possibly can," Kings Coach Terry Murray said.
Carlyle said he wanted to finish on a positive note. "I think it's a poor message for any coach or any hockey club to prepare a team not to have the ultimate goal, to win the hockey game," he said.
The Kings and Ducks took different routes to get here, but what matters now is how far they can go in the playoffs.
Defense has been the Kings' foundation under Murray, and the sooner-than-projected development of Quick has produced some of the best goaltending in franchise history. Their penalty killing has been a strength, too, ranking second in the NHL.
Although they have six 20-goal scorers, scoring has been a problem. The Kings had scored 10 goals in their previous six games and the power play has been embarrassingly bad for a team that boasts defensemen such as Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson.
No player on the Kings has had a career season, and only a few have elevated their games since the team's top two scorers, Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar, were felled by injuries.
Dustin Brown, 20-year-old rookie Kyle Clifford and utility forward Brad Richardson have done the most to fill the scoring void. Clifford, Richardson and Wayne Simmonds have lately been the Kings' most energetic and effective line, which is both good and frightening.
"That's been guys who have taken on more minutes, playing on a more consistent and regular basis, and playing well," Murray said.
He added that from Brown he has seen "more contribution. … He has stepped it up and it's clear in the locker room, in practice, and in the games. His role has expanded and as the captain of the team, that's what you expect and what you want and he's followed up on that."
Johnson landed on Murray's list of disappointments, but Murray said Doughty has trended upward.
"When you lose your two top scorers like that, you have to find a way to manufacture more offense and your back end, secondary scoring guys are an area that you'd like to see get going and be those players," Murray said.
The Ducks remain a two-line team, but when one line features NHL goal-scoring leader Corey Perry and another has sure Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne, that's a good start. Both have stepped up under pressure: Perry had 15 goals and 21 points in March and leads the NHL with 21 third-period goals and 23 goals scored in the third period or overtime. Selanne ranked eighth in scoring with 80 points. And Lubomir Visnovsky led NHL defensemen in scoring with 67 points.
The Ducks have gotten contributions from unexpected sources. When All-Star goalie Jonas Hiller was stricken by vertigo, Emery came in and won his first six decisions. Saturday starter Dan Ellis, acquired in late February, has been fine, too.
"Your elite-level players have to be difference-makers," Carlyle said, "and ours definitely were."
And so the Ducks joined the Kings and San Jose Sharks in a hat trick's worth of playoff-bound California teams. Poor Canada, represented by only Montreal and Vancouver. There's a golden age of hockey dawning in the Golden State.