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Game Day Preview #79, Los Angeles Kings @ Anaheim Ducks

Once more unto the breach, dear friends

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Anaheim Ducks Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Los Angeles Kings (43-28-7) @ Anaheim Ducks (39-25-13)

Game Time: 7:00 PM, KCOP-13

It’s not often that a late-season game between the Kings and the Ducks has much more meaning for either than bragging rights and, occasionally, the potential for a slight jostle here or there in the standings.

Not the story this year.

The Kings and Ducks are competing for essentially the same playoff spot, having done quite their share of flipping positions over the past few weeks. Fighting for playoff positioning is familiar territory for the Kings, but for the Ducks, who have won the Western Conference for the past five seasons, these are uncharted waters.

The Ducks sit in the second wild card spot, two points behind the Kings. An Anaheim win tonight would elevate them over the Kings, though, as the Ducks have a game in hand. To give credit where credit is due, for Anaheim to be in the conversation at all is impressive, considering the fact that they spent a large part of the beginning of the season rostering half of the San Diego Gulls due to injuries to key players.

The team is largely back to full health now, missing only Kevin Bieksa, out after hand surgery, and Patrick Eaves, who has missed essentially the entire season due to long-term illness. So the Ducks are back to being the exact same team they always are: hard to play against, very physical, and full of irritating scorers. Every line has someone on it who is a threat with the puck. Adam Henrique, who could easily be a team’s first or second line center, plays on the third line, creating matchup havoc for opposing coaches. In net, John Gibson continues to frustrate opponents. He’s putting up numbers similar to Jonathan Quick (.923 Sv% for Quick vs. .925 Sv% for Gibson) and has already bested the Kings twice this year.

The two most recent meetings for these teams took place during the Kings’ annual January Lull, and were both losses for Los Angeles. In both cases, the Kings fell behind, made a late push, and still fell short. It was emblematic of the mental lapses and inconsistency we saw from the Kings during that rough month (and that still continue to plague them now at times).

These teams don’t like each other. Even Nate Thompson, who spent three seasons as a Duck, won’t be feeling much love from the other side of the ice. We always know what we’re going to get during one of these matchups. The big difference is that this game means a lot more than usual.

So for the Kings, is it going to come down to that nebulous compete level that John Stevens and other coaches talk about? Are the Kings going to come out emotionally and physically ready to start the game? There’s no doubt that they’re tired, having just played last night. But for once, the travel is light, the routine familiar. Even the arena will have just enough touches of Go Kings Go to make it feel home-adjacent. “The best players need to be the best players” is a refrain heard often in this sport, and lately, the Kings’ top guys have been stepping up. Anze Kopitar, four goals in Colorado. Jeff Carter, three goals just last night. Kopitar, Carter, Drew Doughty, and especially Jonathan Quick are going to need to lead tonight. And if the depth pieces around them aren’t pulling their weight?

It’s time to put the team on your backs, boys. We’ve got two important points to steal in Orange County.

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Rieder - Carter - Toffoli
Pearson - Kempe - Lewis
Clifford - Thompson - Mitchell

Forbort - Doughty
Martinez - Phaneuf
Gravel - Folin

Quick
(Campbell)

Anaheim Ducks

Rakell - Getzlaf - Perry
Cogliano - Kesler - Silfverberg
Kase - Henrique - Brown
Ritchie - Grant - Chimera

Fowler - Montour
Lindholm - Manson
Petterson - Beauchemin

Gibson
(Miller)

Opposing Preview: Anaheim Calling