The heated Kings-Ducks rivalry gets even hotter with Pacific Division lead at stake

You can be assured that this won't be a "pajama party," as Kings Coach Darryl Sutter once humorously described the sleepy nature of afternoon games.

Not with first place in the Pacific Division up for (temporary) grabs between Southern California rivals, the Kings and the Ducks.

Not with the Ducks arriving for Saturday's matinee at Staples Center with a franchise record-tying 10 consecutive victories and a 24-4-2 run since Christmas.

Not with the Kings still clinging to first in the Pacific Division by virtue of the first tiebreaker (regulation plus overtime wins).

Hockey's horse race. You practically need to examine a photo finish to see the difference between the Kings and the Ducks with 19 games remaining in the regular season.

Or you need to speak to Kings left wing Milan Lucic, a veteran of rivalries involving bitterness and deep hatred (see: Boston vs. Montreal). After practice, the former Bruin was rattling off statistics as if he was receiving emails from the Ducks' public relations staff or tweets from the Elias Sports Bureau. He started off with this one: Anaheim is 17-1-1 since Jan. 17.

"Getting to be part of this rivalry is actually a lot of fun," he said Friday. "Not just the players, but the fans, the media and everything that goes with it — they mark that game, those five games on the calendar — and it definitely lives up to one of the best rivalries in the NHL. You saw how intense it gets down there at Honda Center and at Staples Center.

"I'm even more excited to experience what it is going to be like in an afternoon game. This is probably the biggest game of the season for both ends."

The other 10-game winning streak for the Ducks was in December 2013. They've also won their last five road games.

"It hasn't happened by accident," Lucic said. "I've been on teams as well that have gone on streaks like that and it doesn't happen by accident. It happens with your best players being your best players and your support players stepping up and chipping in."

Both teams have been dealing with injuries and illness.

Kings winger Marian Gaborik suffered a knee injury on Feb. 12 and the Kings are hoping to get him back just before the playoffs. Winger Jordan Nolan had a herniated disk, which required surgery Thursday. There is no timetable for his return.

Ducks leading scorer Ryan Getzlaf (lower-body injury) missed Thursday's game at Arizona and probably will be a game-time decision. Defenseman Simon Despres, who has been out with flu symptoms, was able to practice Friday.

"It's just going to depend on how things react," Getzlaf said. "We went through some steps today and things were progressing forward. We'll see how it feels in the morning. . . . To some aspect, when you're talking about, had it been a playoff game, can I play? Yeah, probably. But I think at this point it was sore enough that we didn't want to go the other way."

Said Anaheim Coach Bruce Boudreau: "Listen, if your captain and best player is ready to play and says he wants to play, he's going to play. So, I mean, if he says he's not feeling right, then we'll definitely keep him out. But if he says he's good to go, I'm definitely not keeping him out."

Both sides still might be feeling the bruises from six days ago, when the Kings and Ducks played a tough, physical game — a "man's game," Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said of Anaheim's 4-2 victory at Honda Center.

"It's going to be a battle for sure," Kings defenseman Luke Schenn said. "I think these teams don't like each other and there's a really good rivalry built up. There's a lot of core players that have been on both sides for a long time. That adds to it."

The Ducks have dominated the regular-season series (10-1-2) since the start of the 2013-14 season but the Kings won their only playoff meeting, in the second round in 2014. That helped the rivalry escalate, Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick said.

""In that playoff series guys started to form that dislike for each other," Quick said. "Before that, it was the fans, maybe thought it was a rivalry. When it was just a team you play a few times a year. Now you can sense it.

"When you go to games, you can feel it within the arena. How much each team really wants to beat the other one."

NEXT UP

DUCKS AT KINGS

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.

On the air: TV: FS West, Prime; Radio: 790, 830.

Update: The usual half-hour pregame on TV will be extended to an hour Saturday. The Ducks' power play has scored in 10 straight games. Arizona Coyotes forward Max Domi was suspended for one game for instigating a fight against the Ducks' Ryan Garbutt in the last five minutes of Thursday's game in Glendale, Ariz.

Follow Lisa Dillman on Twitter: @reallisa

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 05, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "It's the hottest thing on ice - Kings-Ducks rivalry has gained in intensity and stature. Divisional stakes only up ante." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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