The last time the Kings and Ducks faced off, the game ended with the Ducks waving goodbye to Teemu Selanne and their season.
The Kings swooped into Anaheim on May 16 for the seventh game of their second-round playoff series and routed the Ducks, 6-2, sending Selanne into retirement and ushering the top-seeded Ducks into summer vacation. While the Ducks went home to think of what might have been, the Kings went on to win the Stanley Cup.
“You want to put it behind you,” Ducks winger Matt Beleskey said Tuesday, “but it’s not fully gone, of course.”
The teams will meet Wednesday at Honda Center, to be followed by a return engagement Saturday at Staples Center. Their reunion promises to provide an emotional boost that could make both teams forget their current woes.
“I think they’re the team to beat. End of story,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said. “They’re the team that won last year and won the last two out of three years. They’re the best, we think, in the league, simple as that. They won the Stanley Cup and they’re the team to beat to get there. It’s a good measuring stick to see where we are as a team and to see how good our game is right now.”
The Kings also seemed to welcome the renewal of the rivalry christened during their first playoff series.
“We were happy to beat them in the playoffs last year and I’m sure they weren’t too happy that we did,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “They’re looking for a little bit of revenge and we gotta step up to the plate and beat them.”
The Ducks are second in the West despite losing their last three games, all at home, once in overtime and twice in shootouts. They will be without their goal-scoring leader Corey Perry and stalwart defenseman Francois Beauchemin, both suffering from a viral gland infection.
The Kings, still without indefinitely suspended defenseman Slava Voynov, have won two of their last three games but are 1-3-2 on the road. Then again, so many Kings fans fill the stands in Anaheim that it often feels like a Kings home game.
“I feel like our team does play well there ever since I’ve been in the league,” Doughty said.
The Kings played well enough to win that seventh game last May and influence the Ducks’ off-season strategy.
Recognizing the difference made by the Kings’ strength up the middle, the Ducks traded for second-line center Ryan Kesler and got younger and faster up front with the retirements of Selanne and fellow veteran forward Saku Koivu.
The Kings are largely the same as they were last spring, minus Voynov and injured defenseman Robyn Regehr, and with more responsibility carried by wingers Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli. The youngsters have responded well: Toffoli leads the team with 17 points and shares the goal-scoring lead with Pearson, at seven each.
Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau, who coached the Kings’ top farm team a decade ago, still keeps an eye on his former employer.
“They played a great game in Dallas and they played a great game against Vancouver so they’re starting to step it up,” he said. “I think it will be a great test for us to see exactly where we are now that we’ve had a couple days off and are playing them.”
It also could be a reminder for the Ducks of the disappointment they felt last spring. But center Ryan Getzlaf said he wasn’t bitter when the Kings beat the New York Rangers to win the Cup.
“They were a good team. They deserved it. That’s about the extent of it,” he said. “Not any harder feelings or anything like that. ... They took a hard road last year to get where they were. They took the hardest road possible, I think, in the playoffs. So they earned it.”
Wednesday’s winner will earn bragging rights for a few days. But Boudreau cautioned against reading too much into the outcome.
“It’s two points. As far as the importance goes, we beat them five times last year or something and how important was that come May? It wasn’t important at all,” he said of the Ducks’ 4-0-1 regular-season record against the Kings. “Our importance right now is to get to the playoffs.”
Maybe the postseason paths of the Kings and Ducks will converge again. Until then, Wednesday’s game promises to add some emotion to the 82-game rehearsal for the playoffs.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen
Times staff writer Lisa Dillman contributed to this report.