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Ducks-Kings isn't quite a showdown, but it could be a showcase

Both teams have clinched playoff spots. The Ducks are battling for a top seeding and the league's best record, and the Kings are aiming for a franchise record in wins and for the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed.

April 11, 2014|Helene Elliott
  • Ducks defenseman Mark Fistric checks Kings left wing Tanner Pearson during the second period of a game last month at Staples Center.
Ducks defenseman Mark Fistric checks Kings left wing Tanner Pearson during… (Danny Moloshok / Associated…)

If the hockey gods had a sense of humor, they would have arranged for the Kings and the Ducks to play for the Pacific Division title Saturday at Staples Center. At the very least, they would have put one team in position to knock the other out of the playoffs.

Alas, the hockey gods must have been busy elsewhere because they didn't leave much drama surrounding Saturday's game.

The Kings have been locked into third place in the division for a while, certain that they will start on the road against the San Jose Sharks, likely on Wednesday. The Ducks clinched the division title last week and can still capture the No. 1 seeding in the West and overtake Boston for the President's Trophy as the NHL's top team overall.

But this game still has meaning for the Kings, who finish their regular-season schedule on Saturday, and for the Ducks, who will return to Anaheim on Sunday to play their season finale and honor future Hall of Fame winger Teemu Selanne in his last regular-season game. Selanne, 43, won't play against the Kings; nor will 39-year-old center Saku Koivu, who hasn't decided if he will return next season.

Selanne, reluctant to retire after the Ducks' first-round playoff loss to Detroit last season, is prepared for a long run this spring.

"We were talking earlier we want to finish strong, and of course there's still something on the line in those last two games," Selanne said after the Ducks practiced Friday. "The bottom line is that next week is the new season and that's all what matters. Last year we couldn't take the next step and we want to remind each other that we couldn't do it last year and now it's time to do it.

"I think this group has improved from last year and that's why the expectations are very high."

The Kings have two statistical goals: A victory would give them a franchise-record 47 wins, and allowing two goals or fewer would clinch their first Jennings Trophy, which is awarded to the goaltender(s) on the team that allows the fewest goals. In this case it would go to Jonathan Quick because Martin Jones hasn't played the 25 games required to get his name engraved, too.

For the Ducks, the biggest task in their last two games is to sort out who will start in goal.

Veteran Jonas Hiller hasn't distinguished himself lately, but they'd be taking a huge gamble if they opened the playoffs with 20-year-old John Gibson or fellow rookie Frederik Andersen, who has 27 games of NHL experience, even though both have been impressive.

Hiller said he knows he's not playing Saturday but didn't know about Sunday. Coach Bruce Boudreau doesn't usually announce who will start.

"You don't play, it's kind of frustrating. You want to prove that you can do better, but at the same time it's part of the game," Hiller said. "As a goalie you can be the hero, but at the same time there's only one guy playing out there and you either play or you don't."

Andersen had one net to himself during Friday's practice to get in some intensive work, while Gibson and Hiller alternated at the other end. Two games left, three goalies.

"The math doesn't work there," Boudreau said. "I told all the goalies it's a game-by-game situation. I told them who's starting [Saturday] and then we'll reevaluate after the game and then we'll take it from there."

Defenseman Ben Lovejoy had just joined the Ducks when they faltered late last season and were upset by Detroit. He senses -- correctly -- that building confidence as they enter the playoffs is vital to their postseason fate.

"These next two games, and the last couple of games, are all about getting the Anaheim Ducks to be playing our best hockey next week," he said. "To do that, we want to go out and beat the Sharks, beat the Kings, beat Colorado back-to-back-to-back. By playing well, we will go into the playoffs hot.

"If we're going to win the Stanley Cup, we're going to have to go through the Sharks. We're going to have to go through the Kings. And we're going to have to go through Colorado, and we want to be playing well. We want to send a message to them that we can beat them at any time, and it starts with a game against the Kings [Saturday]. If we can go 4-0-1 against the Kings this year, hopefully it puts a little doubt in their mind."

And some self-assurance in the Ducks' collective psyche.

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