No matter if it’s the Kings or San Jose Sharks awaiting in the second round of the NHL Western Conference playoffs, the top-seeded Ducks have reasons to feel confident in the match-up.
The Kings, trying to pull off a near-miraculous rally from down 3-0 in the series, play Game 7 Wednesday at 7 p.m. at San Jose’s famed “Shark Tank,” where L.A. won Game 5 Saturday night after surrendering 13 combined goals there in Games 1 and 2.
“I like both team match-ups, we were actually more worried about the [first-round series vs. the Dallas] Stars, because of their team speed and scoring abilities,” Ducks forward Daniel Winnik said Wednesday following Anaheim’s second practice since eliminating Dallas on Sunday night in overtime.
“We know we’ve played well against both L.A. and San Jose, match up pretty evenly, but we feel good.”
The Ducks lost a nine-round shootout to the Kings Dec. 3, but responded with four consecutive wins in the series -- including a 3-0 victory Jan. 25 at Dodger Stadium and a shootout win of their own April 12 at Staples Center.
“We made a conscious effort to beat the Kings this year … the Kings have had our number before this year [so] we wanted to prove we can beat them home, way, in Dodger Stadium, and we did, so we take confidence into the playoffs,” Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy said.
While the Ducks were 2-2-1 vs. San Jose and never won in three games up north, they did clinch the Pacific Division title with a 5-2 win at home against the Sharks on April 9.
Winnik, a former Shark, declined to take a stab at the Sharks’ historically fragile mental state if they were to advance after the collapse against the Kings, but other Ducks know there’s an obvious difference between a team that’s won a series from down 3-0 and a team that’s exhaling after staving off a perceived choke.
“If you add that to the first-ever Kings-Ducks [playoff series], that would add a lot of fuel to the Kings’ adrenaline,” Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Either one is going to be a great battle .… Every game we’ve played against both of those opponents has been so close, with the outcome [usually] in doubt in the last five minutes.”
Lovejoy took the high road in assessing San Jose: “High-end skill, high-end speed like us .… We’ll be playing someone coming off a successful Game 7 mentality. We have to be ready for that.”
Boudreau recalled coaching the Washington Capitals in 2011 to a five-game first-round series win, sitting around for a week while the Tampa Bay Lightning won their seven-game series, then getting swept in the second round.
“You call [home ice and rest] advantages, but the Game 7 high … [Tampa Bay] played like it was Game 7 in the first two games of the series [with Washington] and we played like they were the first two games, and we never caught up,” Boudreau said. “Whoever wins that game tonight is going to have an advantage over the team that’s rested.”
That opinion can be chalked up to a coach’s anxiety.
Ducks players are grateful for the break, as centers Ryan Getzlaf and Mathieu Perreault, forward Matt Beleskey and defenseman Hampus Lindholm have needed the time to recover from various injuries.
Kings-Sharks has been "a hell of a series and just proves it's never over until it's over," Getzlaf said, adding he doesn't care who wins. "Hard to say we care abouut two teams as good as them, and there's no benefit to playing either one. We're going to have to go against tough competition. I'm glad they're going the distance, though."
The NHL is scheduled to announce later Wednesday if Game 1 at the Honda Center will be Friday or Saturday. Game 2 is expected to be Monday due to an L.A. KISS football game at the arena Sunday.
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