One could tell by the tone in their voices that this is no garden variety Kings-Ducks game on tap.
The teams have already elevated their rivalry as among the best in the NHL, and Friday’s game at Honda Center is the most at stake between them this late in the regular season and might be the most hyped game since they played in the 2014 playoffs.
“Now being on the other side of it, it’s always a war out there,” said Kings center Nate Thompson, a former Ducks player. “There’s not a lot of room on the ice. You’ve really got to fight for every inch. Low-scoring games, usually. It’s just fun, playoff-style hockey, and I’m looking forward to it.”
The Kings occupy third place in the Pacific Division with 93 points, the last guaranteed spot for the postseason. The Ducks have the second and final wild card position in the Western Conference with 91 points. They have a game in hand on the Kings but the Kings have already clinched the tiebreaker with more regulation and overtime wins.
This is the first time since the Ducks’ inception in 1993-94 that both teams have been within two points of a playoff spot this deep into the season. But beyond the statistical minutiae is the hatred displayed by both sides, coupled with the coveted two points in the standings.
The Ducks finished a trip with a disappointing loss to the Vancouver Canucks but the mere sight of the Kings erases that and cranks it to another level.
“Getting up for these games shouldn’t be a problem, no matter how taxing the season was,” Ryan Kesler said. “I think we’re all going to be ready for tonight.”
Thompson said that the intensity of the games is partly because the Kings and Ducks play a similar style – physical, hard-checking and often low scoring. It will be a new animal for Kings defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who has played in the huge rivalries between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, and Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.
Which is the most intense of those?
“That’s a tough question,” Phaneuf said. “I think every one’s a little different. Everyone’s got different emotion, different feelings. But the one thing that’s consistent when you play in rivalry games is there’s a lot of energy in the building. There’s a lot of energy from both teams. It brings out the best in the players’ competitiveness.”
Thompson still keeps in touch with some of his former teammates. But his phone is quiet leading up to a game like Friday.
“There’s no friends out there tonight,” he said.
The Kings signed Daniel Brickley to a two-year entry-level contract. Brickley is expected to join the team early next week at the latest. The defenseman from Minnesota State is not expected to play in any game of consequence, though, for the remainder of the season…