Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau considers himself a fan of all sports and loves a good discussion about games not played on ice, but he has been too wrapped up in hockey lately to stay current on the playoff progress of the Clippers, the other local winter-sports team still in action.
"I know that they beat San Antonio and I don't know what the series is right now that they're in," he said of the Clippers, who hold a 2-1 lead over Houston in their second-round series. "I haven't watched as much."
He wasn't aware of it, but he and the Clippers have something interesting and odd in common. Despite winning several division titles with the Washington Capitals and the Ducks, Boudreau has never gone beyond the second round of the NHL playoffs. The Clippers, despite finally assembling and keeping a formidable lineup, have never advanced beyond the second round of the NBA playoffs in their often-dismal franchise history.
Both are in position to smash that barrier this spring. The Ducks can eliminate the Calgary Flames on Sunday at Honda Center in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal series, about 90 minutes after the Clippers tip off in the fourth game of their series against the Rockets at Staples Center.
These are defining moments for Boudreau and the Clippers, who are in similar situations in the shadows of older, long-entrenched rivals with larger fan bases.
The Ducks' 2007 Stanley Cup triumph will always allow them to say they won the Cup before the Kings did, but the Kings eclipsed them by winning twice in three seasons before missing the playoffs this spring. And the Clippers can cover the Lakers' championship banners with photos of their players or anything else they want, but they can't obscure the Lakers' glorious past, though that seems ever longer ago and more impossible to recapture.
For Boudreau and for the Clippers, their current playoff round will go a long way toward determining how they will be judged — as perennial contenders who always have enough go wrong to end their season sooner than it should, or as winners for reaching heights they've never scaled before.
Boudreau, speaking on a conference call with reporters Saturday after the Ducks returned from Calgary, said he's not preoccupied with thoughts of facing the Chicago Blackhawks in the West final. First in his mind, as it should be, is subduing the Flames, who haven't gone down quietly since the Ducks' series-opening 6-1 rout.
"I try not to think about it," Boudreau said. "I know it's cliched, but I'm just trying to think about tomorrow. Because if you think about tomorrow and it goes successfully then everything else will take care of itself and you'll have enough time to think about the other thing. So I haven't put really any thought into playing Chicago at all....
"The last two games, even three games, have been so tough that the minute you start thinking about putting the cart before the horses you're in trouble. We've got a really tough opponent who will be very, very motivated [Sunday] and if we're not completely with our minds set on them, we're in trouble."
Reaching the conference final would bring him personal vindication, but Boudreau dodged that discussion.
"I know, but if I start talking about it then I'm thinking about it and I don't want to think about it," he said, laughing. "I would love to, if things work out properly, talk about it at length tomorrow night or Monday or whatever, but right now I really want to leave the next round out of it and try to fulfill what our goal is, to win tomorrow."
To beat the Flames on Sunday, he said, will require an effort at least as good as the Ducks' commanding performance in the 5-2 victory that completed their first-round sweep of the Winnipeg Jets.
"We can't have lapses where they're deking us one-on-one, where we score a goal and they come back right after it, where we're not engaged with them physically," Boudreau said. "If any of these things happen, then it's a good chance that we won't be successful because I think that even though we've been lucky enough to score a number of goals during the playoffs so far, it's a type of game that could end up 1-0 or 2-1 when it comes to elimination games."
The Ducks are further along in the process than the Clippers are, but getting out of the second round would be a first-rate achievement for both. And twice the fun.