The great unknown of the first Kings-Ducks playoff series is which potential tipping point will matter most.
Is it Jonathan Quick, the Kings' Stanley Cup champion goalie of two years ago who returned to his old stingy tricks against San Jose in the first round?
Is it the top-seeded Ducks' confidence about the matchup, not only because of home-ice advantage but also their 4-0-1 record against the Kings this season?
Or is it a tight defense or a high-flying offense that makes the difference? The Kings gave up the fewest goals (174) in the NHL this season while the Ducks established a franchise record with 266 goals, second by one to defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago.
Asked the key to the series, Ducks MVP finalist Ryan Getzlaf said, "We've got to find a way to get past Quick. He can steal hockey games."
In the Kings' stirring first-round rally from three games behind, Quick held the potent Sharks to two goals in the final three games.
"Quickie … his game's going up and that's exactly what we need from him because when he's hot and we're playing good defensive hockey, we're a hard team to score against," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "That's the way we're looking at the series. We want to keep it as close to zero as we can, if not zero every game."
For Doughty, there's comfort in squaring off against familiar faces Getzlaf and Corey Perry. The three were teammates on gold-medal-winning Team Canada in February. Of course, there also is discomfort in trying stop the Ducks' top scorers — Getzlaf, 31 goals, 56 assists; Perry 43 goals, 39 assists.
"I know exactly how they play," Doughty said. "It just comes down to out-competing them and being a better player at every situation. It's going to be tough for me to do, but I've got to do it."
The Ducks have done it with resiliency all season, recording a team-record 28 comeback wins. In fact, that is how they advanced to this round, rallying from two goals down with 130 seconds remaining in Game 6 and then eliminating Dallas in overtime.
"The series comes at a good time for us," Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said. "We're ready to challenge ourselves to get by one of the best teams in the league. We have to use our home ice to our advantage. It's what we worked so hard for all year.
"We know we frustrated them a bit, played hard and got to Quick. This has to be no different."
Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau won't reveal which goalie will start until the team's Saturday morning skate. Veteran Jonas Hiller shut out the Kings on 36 saves on Jan. 25 in the Dodger Stadium game, and rookie Frederik Andersen beat the Kings twice at Staples Center.
Andersen, his team shut out only twice all season, rebutted the idea the series is all on the goalies' shoulders.
"I feel like we have the better team," he said. "We can score enough goals, and play well defensively against them."
Kings center Anze Kopitar has launched an impressive early campaign for the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP), collecting four goals and six assists in seven games.
The Kings' depth on defense will be tested because veteran Willie Mitchell is expected to miss the early part of the series. Mitchell sat out Game 7 because of a lower-body injury suffered in the second period of Game 6 against the Sharks.
Stay-at-home defenseman Matt Greene took Mitchell's place and Jeff Schultz is up from the minors as insurance. Mitchell was not on the ice at practice Friday, nor was forward Jeff Carter.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said Carter worked out Thursday. Taking Carter's spot on the line with youngsters Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli in Friday practice was Jordan Nolan, who has been a healthy scratch. If Carter's availability was in question, it's likely the Kings would have experimented with another forward.
The Ducks' long rest has allowed Getzlaf (upper body), fellow center Mathieu Perreault (lower body) and defenseman Hampus Lindholm (neck) to recover from first-round injuries.
Many are projecting an intense, extended series. Ducks veteran forward Teemu Selanne, 43, who'll retire at season's end, said the difference he anticipates is how Southern Californians will view hockey after this series.
"The rivalry has always been there, but we've always known it needs one playoff series," Selanne said. "Then, it'll be a lifetime thing."
Times staff writer Lisa Dillman contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times