Depending on which player you ask, the possibility of the Kings and Ducks advancing to the playoffs in the same season for the first time ever is:
A) A great opportunity for the local teams to attract interest from fringe hockey fans and mainstream sports media.
B) Of absolutely no interest or concern, since the player is too busy fighting for his own postseason berth to worry about someone else’s.
Heading into Wednesday’s games, the Kings are in fifth place in the Western Conference standings, four points behind Pacific Division leader San Jose, their opponent Thursday at Staples Center, but just three points from falling out of the top eight, the cutoff to qualify for the postseason.
The Ducks, meanwhile, are in an even more precarious position. They sit in eighth place with 85 points, the same number as ninth-place Dallas and 10th-place Calgary. Anaheim plays in Dallas on Wednesday night. Anything other than a victory will drop the Ducks back out of the top eight.
As for those who liked the thought of two Southern California teams venturing into the Stanley Cup playoffs at the same time, they viewed the scenario as a win-win for the sport, which has seen the local talent pool produce two first-round draft picks last year and another former first rounder, Jonathon Blum of Rancho Santa Margarita, win a job this season manning the blue line for the Nashville Predators.
“If both teams can make [the playoffs], it’s going to give a lot more people a chance to watch a little more hockey,” said Ducks rookie Brandon McMillan. “I know it’s not the No. 1 thing to do down here, but if both teams are playing when the weather starts getting nice, maybe it will be a little more popular and get a little more exposure.”
The closest Anaheim and Los Angeles came to qualifying for the playoffs in the same season was in 1999-2000. Just as they stand now, the Kings were in fifth place with nine games remaining and the Ducks were in eighth with eight games left. Anaheim ended up in ninth, four points out of a playoff spot. The Ducks have 10 games remaining, the Kings nine.
By comparison, the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers have made the playoffs four times in the same season, and the Dodgers and Angels three.
For all the hullabaloo that’s sure to grow if the Kings and Ducks remain in contention over the next 2 ½ weeks, some players just don’t feel the same excitement for their I-5 neighbor.
“I don’t think it’s going to matter to us if they’re going to make the playoffs or not,” said Kings leading scorer Anze Kopitar. “As long as we make it.”
Both the Kings and Ducks have assembled big, hard-hitting teams that can chip away at opponents over a seven-game series. Anaheim also features world-class skill on its top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, while the Kings have one of the stingiest defenses in the NHL.
Getzlaf, a member of the Ducks 2007 Stanley Cup championship team, said the entire Western Conference is loaded with big, physical teams.
“You look around the league, any team in the West here we’re going to have to face will be a tough team to beat in a seven games,” he said. “We’re built the same way. Everyone is built big and strong.”
Kings defenseman Matt Greene has a lot of respect for the Ducks and what they’ve accomplished over the years.
“They’re already tried and tested,” Greene said. “They won before and they still have that core group together and they got big bodies. They’re a tough team to play, especially in a seven-game series. They wear you down...they’re built for the playoffs and they’re built for those series and it will be tough bumping into them.”
Of course, the Kings and Ducks finish out the regular season playing back-to-back games April 8-9. Will it be a playoff preview for two teams already locked into postseason berths? A last-man standing, winner take all?
Only the next two weeks will tell.