ANAHEIM, Calif. – In the past, when the Anaheim Ducks made the playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings would be home wondering what happened—and vice versa. Now they’re both in it in the same year for the first time.
Teemu Selanne scored his second goal of the game with 14:06 left in the third period, Dan Ellis made 23 saves in place of the injured Ray Emery, and the Ducks took care of business Friday night with a 2-1 victory over the Kings.
“We’ve have been grinding for the last three months, and I really believe that this team deserves to be in the playoffs,” Selanne said. “Tonight was a big step forward. At least we can breathe a little now.”
Ryan Smith scored his 22nd goal and Jonathan Quick made 26 saves for the Kings, who earned their second straight post-season berth Wednesday night with a 3-2 shootout win over Phoenix.
“I’m proud of both teams,” said Selanne, who has 50 goals and 109 points in 91 career games against the Kings. “We need this. Obviously for hockey here in Southern California, this is going to be a huge boost for both franchises. So I’m very happy about this situation.”
The Ducks and Kings have met 101 times in the regular season and numerous times in the preseason since the NHL expanded to Anaheim. But they had never before sold playoff tickets in the same year despite a spirited rivalry that began in 1993-94, when Los Angeles was coming off its only trip to the Stanley Cup finals and the expansion Ducks were siphoning off close to 20 per cent of the Kings’ season-ticket holders.
“I think it’s great for Southern California, and for hockey,” said Jack Ferreira, who was the Ducks’ general manager during their first five seasons and now works for the Kings as special assistant to GM Dean Lombardi. “As much as what Wayne Gretzky did to develop hockey out here, I think this will create even a greater interest. There’s a rivalry, but I think there’s a lot of respect, too. I mean, some of the people that are still here I hired.”
Los Angeles defenceman Jack Johnson wasn’t even aware that both clubs were never in the playoffs together before.
“Anaheim’s been good for a while now and the Kings hadn’t been good for a while. But we’re starting to get it going now, so you’ll probably see it a lot more and it’ll be pretty common,” Johnson said.
Should the Ducks and Kings meet again down the road after completing their season-ending home-and-home set, the intensity would be amped up considerably—much like the Rangers-Islanders rivalry of the 1970s and early ’80s.
But those two natural rivals have made the playoffs in the same season only once since 1994—the year the Rangers swept them in the first round on the way to their first Stanley Cup title since 1940.
“The playoffs is when a rivalry would actually begin, because rivalries don’t take place in the regular season,” Johnson said. “They can be build up in the media as much as they want it to be, but rivalries are built in the playoffs.”
The Ducks are 14-5-0 since a season-worst five-game losing streak that included a 3-2 loss to the Kings in Anaheim.
“It is amazing that you have to play 81 games to find out that you finally made the playoffs on the second-to-last day of the season, and that you have 97 points,” coach Randy Carlyle said. “I said at the beginning of the season that I thought 100 points would guarantee it, and that’s how it’s played out.”
Ellis made his 10th start for Anaheim and first since March 20, when he stopped 37 shots in a 5-4 overtime win over Calgary. The four-year veteran was obtained from Tampa Bay in a trade Feb. 24 and started the Ducks’ next eight games in the wake of Jonas Hiller’s bout with vertigo, then lost the No. 1 job to Emery.
Selanne tied it at 9:55 of the second, beating Quick to the stick side on a rebound from about 15 feet. He put the Ducks ahead to stay with a 10-foot wrist shot from the right of the net that beat Quick to the glove side. Saku Koivu set up Selanne’s 31st goal and 637th of his career with a sensational tape-to-tape pass while losing his balance and falling to the ice.
With 80 points in 72 games, Selanne will join Gordie Howe and Johnny Bucyk as the only players in NHL history to play an entire season at age 40 or older with more points than games played. Howe had 103 points in 76games with Detroit in 1968-69, Bucyk 83 points in 77 games with Boston in 1975-76.
“All I know is that we’re awful lucky to have Teemu, and again he delivered in a clutch situation,” Carlyle said. “He’s done that for this organization both on and off the ice, and he continues to deliver. It’s amazing. When you look at him, you don’t think he’s 40 years old the way he moves out there.”
NOTES: Of the 26 players who have played for the Ducks and Kings in the regular season, seven have appeared in the playoffs with both clubs. Lubomir Visnovsky, Andreas Lilja and Jason Blake of the Kings will get the opportunity next week to join that list, along with Dustin Penner of the Ducks. The others were Dan Bylsma, Sean O’Donnell, Warren Rychel, Tomas Sandstrom, Mathieu Schneider, Ken Baumgartner and Stu Grimson. O’Donnell and Penner were with the Ducks in 2007 when they won the Stanley Cup against Ottawa. Sandstrom and Rychel were with the Kings in 1993 when they got to the finals for the only time and lost to Montreal.