Wednesday night at Honda Center brings us a rematch of the last spring's Ducks-Kingsplayoff series, and this time the Battle of SoCal actually has some postseason history behind it as an added layer of spice.
These two teams just don’t like each other.
It also makes you wonder how that seven-game series would have turned out if the Vancouver Canucks hadn't gotten cold feet at the March trade deadline and dealt the center to the Ducks right then and there.
We’ll never know, of course. All that matters is the Kings went on to beat the Ducks and eventually win their second Stanley Cup in three years.
Kesler's trade request was finally honored in June, when Vancouver's new front-office regime signed off on the blockbuster deal with Anaheim, hours before the start of the NHL draft in Philadelphia.
Kesler has been as good as advertised, third on the Ducks in scoring behind Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, playing 20 minutes a game, taking key faceoffs, killing penalties and going up against the opposing team’s top players.
But it is nights like tonight, Anaheim’s first crack at the rival Kings this season, where a guy like Kesler licks his chops. The bigger the game, the more he tends to elevate his game.
"You could feel it even in preseason when we played them," Kesler told ESPN.com Tuesday, referring to the Kings. "These are going to be fun games, I’m looking forward to it. Those are the type of games you want to play in, where the energy is high, the tension is high, that's when the good players come out to shine."
I couldn't see Kesler's face through the phone line, but I was imagining his eyes growing to the size of beach balls as he envisioned playing a central role in this terrific rivalry.
"I think Ryan is even more of an X factor when our lineup is complete," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said Wednesday morning from Anaheim. "We're pretty down to the bare essentials right now. But when you look at our team when we get Perry, Francois Beauchemin, Kyle Palmieri and Ben Lovejoy back, then all of a sudden you really see how Ryan will be the X factor. And you can see him being that because of the way he plays; I can put him out against anybody and he does a fine job. He’s really intense out there.
"He wins faceoffs, he very conscientious at both ends of the ice. That’s exactly what we wanted. I just don't like the fact I've had to mix his line up so many times."
Indeed, the Ducks are 10-3-3 despite numerous injuries. They will be facing the Kings without top sniper Perry and veteran defenseman Beauchemin, both still out with viral glandular infections; top-four defenseman Lovejoy is out with a broken hand; and top-nine forward Palmieri hasn't played this season as he recovers from a high-ankle sprain (although he’s close to returning).
But it’s yet another reason why a versatile center like Kesler can be used in many situations to have an impact.
So far this season it’s one of the assets that went the other way in the Kesler trade that has garnered more attention -- Nick Bonino is off to a super start in Vancouver, but as a rival NHL team executive told ESPN.com recently: "You can’t judge that trade until playoff time."
Which is to say, Kesler’s true worth won’t really show through until the chips are really down. And that’s exactly what Ducks general manager Bob Murray had in mind when he made the trade.
That brings us back to last spring. Yes, you could argue the Ducks lost that seven-game series in part because using three different goalies in a playoff series is rarely a good thing and, well, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick always delivers when it matters.
The idea of having Getzlaf and Kesler as a one-two punch at center come playoff time has to make Anaheim a more legit contender. And even Wednesday night, whether he’s out there against Kopitar or Carter, it’s the kind of assignment Kesler lives for.
"I thrive on it," Kesler said. "If I’m up against one of the best, it elevates my game. I love that challenge night in and night out."
Throughout the organization, the Ducks have taken the approach that this season is all about the playoffs, that padding regular-season totals isn't the goal. They want the team fine-tuned over 82 games in order to be in a better position to succeed come the postseason.
"It’s not really what we do in the regular season," Kesler said. "Obviously our goal is to make the playoffs, win the division and the conference, but I think we've seen in years past it doesn't matter where you finish. It’s how you play in the playoffs, and the type of style you want to play. I think the first 82 games are a test run. You learn your identity and learn the way we have to play to win.
"Through the first 16 games I think we've done a pretty good job, we've been a bit inconsistent, but these next two games against L.A. we're going to have to play that gritty style of game. Get it in deep, work them down low, and use our size. It’s going to be two big-body teams going after each other and it’s going to be fun."
The teams will meet again Saturday at Staples Center in L.A.
It’s been duly noted what a close-knit team the Kings have. They're a family, and the culture established within the organization starts at the top with one of the game's best GMs in Dean Lombardi. The Kings’ players lay it on the line for each other.
The Ducks? Kesler says he has been blown away by the atmosphere in the dressing room.
"It's one of the best rooms I've ever been in," Kesler said. "Right from day one, you notice it. Not that I've been in bad rooms, but this is the first time I've been the new guy in the room, just the way they brought me in and made me at home right away. Made me feel part of the team and welcomed. I couldn't ask for anything more."
Kesler looks around him and sees a team that’s going to contend for years to come.
"The most exciting part about it is just how young the team is, we've got a lot of cap room to use, I like the way our team is set up," he said. "We've got guys with experience who settle down the younger guys. I just like the makeup of our team."
The 30-year-old Michigan native has another year left on his deal after this season, and in a perfect world his stay in Anaheim with his wife and three young kids will last much longer than that. An extension would probably appeal to him when the time is right.
"The way the team is made up, how young and how good a contender this team is, yeah, I love it here," Kesler said. "That would be the perfect situation, yes."