LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Just two days ago, the Anaheim Ducks didn’t know whether their six-week sprint to the regular season’s finish line would even get them into the playoffs.
With two bruising victories over their crosstown rivals this weekend, these remarkable Ducks are in, all right—and they even get to stay home for their first two post-season games next week.
Saku Koivu had a goal and an assist, Dan Ellis made 43 saves and Anaheim rocketed to the fourth seed in the Western Conference playoffs with a season-ending 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.
Brandon McMillan and Francois Beauchemin also scored for the Ducks, who didn’t even clinch a playoff spot until Friday’s 2-1 home win over the Kings. After sweeping the weekend to cap their 15-5-0 finish in the logjammed West, the Ducks will host a post-season series—and they’re just as surprised about it as their fans.
“It just shows you this league is crazy tough, but we came through,” said Teemu Selanne, who capped his 80-point season with a third-period fight with Los Angeles’ Brad Richardson. “We kept believing that we could make it, and we kept grinding, and it turned out amazing for us.”
Nashville and Phoenix both lost Saturday before Anaheim won, leaving all three clubs with 99 points. The Ducks own the tiebreakers against both clubs and even Chicago—if the Blackhawks beat Detroit on Sunday to finish with 99 as well.
Ryan Smyth scored and Jonathan Quick stopped 17 shots for the playoff-bound Kings, who outshot Anaheim 44-20 but couldn’t crack Ellis, the latest goalie to excel in Anaheim’s net at a key moment.
“It’s unbelievable the way the season went this year,” said Ellis, who beat the Kings twice after sitting out the previous 5 1/2 games behind Ray Emery. “We could have been anywhere, even out of the playoffs. We managed to put together a few games here, and our confidence is just growing.”
Corey Perry had an assist to finish with 50 goals and 48 assists in his breakthrough season for the Ducks. The all-star right wing will win his first Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal-scorer, and his MVP credentials will be boosted by the Ducks’ stellar finish.
Anaheim has been clawing to get back in the playoff picture for roughly three months, never getting a firm foothold in the competitive West race until this week.
“I don’t think anyone picked us to have home-ice advantage at any point, but it’s funny how things fall into your lap when you win your fair share of games,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “It’s back to our players. They’ve worked extremely hard and stayed committed, and they’ve earned this.”
Los Angeles also could have claimed home ice in the first round with a win, but fell behind 3-0 in the second period and couldn’t catch up to its crosstown rivals. The Kings finished with 98 points after losing four of their final six, getting passed by their crosstown rivals in their final game.
“It’s absolutely incredible, what’s going on here in the last couple weeks of the season,” Kings coach Terry Murray said. “That’s what’s so exciting about it. It’s great for the fans to come and watch the competition, because it’s as good as its going to get. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t control our own destiny by winning the last couple of games here, but you now have to move on and get ready for the playoffs.”
With its top two scorers sidelined by injuries, Los Angeles could slide all the way to eighth if the Blackhawks get a point Sunday.
The Kings will make their second straight playoff appearance after an eight-year absence, but their task against top-seeded Vancouver or No. 2 San Jose will be difficult without leading scorers Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams.
“It’s definitely not how we wanted to finish the season, but now it’s a new season,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown, stopped by Ellis on a second-period breakaway. “Everybody can hit the reset button and get ready to go, because the other 82 games are irrelevant.”
Meanwhile, it’s hard to put a ceiling on the possibilities for talented Anaheim, which took a 46-45-11 lead in the Freeway Faceoff. Both Southern California clubs are headed to the playoffs together for the first time since the then-Mighty Ducks joined the NHL in 1993.
The rivalry series got appropriately chippy in the final minutes. Selanne engaged in a rare fight with Richardson after a prolonged scrum near the boards, and a spectacular fight broke out between Anaheim’s Sheldon Brookbank and Los Angeles’ Kyle Clifford.
“That’s pretty gutless of him to go after a guy like Teemu Selanne,” Ellis said. “Pick another grinder or a fighter, but not a Hall of Fame guy in his 40s.”
Ellis excelled in place of Emery, who incurred a lower-body injury in Wednesday’s win over San Jose. While Emery carried Anaheim down the playoff stretch in the extended absence of All-Star Jonas Hiller (vertigo), Ellis has been nearly as good since arriving in a trade with Tampa Bay, going 8-3-1 with the Ducks.
McMillan and Koivu scored in the first period. A few seconds after Ellis stopped Brown’s breakaway chance, Beauchemin fired a long shot under Quick’s leg.
Los Angeles finally ended an 0-for-23 power-play skid when Smyth’s deflection off the crossbar trickled behind Ellis late in the period.
NOTES: Before the game, Anaheim recalled C Nick Bonino and G J.P. Levasseur from its AHL affiliate in Syracuse. Levasseur was brought up in case Hiller couldn’t suit up, but the Swiss goalie was in uniform backing up Ellis. Although his vertigo symptoms have eased lately, Hiller has played just 83 minutes in three games since appearing in the All-Star game as the only West goalie. … Kopitar was voted the Kings’ most valuable player. Los Angeles’ leading scorer is out until the fall after tearing ligaments in his right ankle. … The Kings sold out 35 of their 41 home games at Staples Center, including the final 18.