Los Angeles Kings vs. Anaheim Ducks Game 1: Keys for Each Team
The Ducks finished with a 54-20-8 record, good for 116 points and first place in the Pacific Division.
Anaheim defeated the Dallas Stars in six games in the opening round of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Kings had a 46-28-8 record and 100 points. They finished third in the Pacific Division and ousted the San Jose Sharks in a historic seven-game series that saw Los Angeles overcome a 3-0 deficit before ultimately emerging victorious.
These two clubs met five times during the regular season, with the Ducks winning four of them. Both teams won one game in a shootout.
The most famous game between these two clubs was played at Dodger Stadium on January 25 when the Ducks shut out the Kings 3-0.
This playoff matchup should take the rivalry between these two teams to a new level.
Here are the three biggest keys for each team to win Game 1. Feel free to comment on any of these or to add one of your own. As always, indicate why you feel the way you do.
Kings Key No. 1: Recover from the Emotional Series vs. San Jose
The first challenge the Kings face is to overcome the letdown that comes after winning an emotional, hard fought, seven-game series against San Jose.
The Kings are just the fourth team in NHL history to win a series after losing the first three games. While a big victory like that can be a unifying experience for a team in the long run, emotional and physical exhaustion often takes over after a big win like that.
The players will have just two days to recover from the Sharks series and to emotionally and physically get ready for the Ducks.
Los Angeles needs to avoid giving away Game 1 in what promises to be a tight and competitive series.
Ducks Key No. 1: Get Good Goaltending
Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau has a decision to make in goal.
Rookie Frederik Andersen started every game against Dallas, but he was pulled from Game 6 and replaced by veteran Jonas Hiller.
It was Hiller who was between the pipes when Anaheim completed their late comeback to oust the Stars in overtime.
Andersen's overall numbers in this year's playoffs are uneven. His GAA is 3.40, and his save percentage is .892. Those are not Stanley Cup-winning stat lines.
Hiller has better career playoff numbers with a 2.24 GAA and a .936 save percentage in 22 postseason games.
Regardless of who starts Game 1, the Ducks need to get consistent goaltending throughout the game, and the series, if they hope to win.
Kings Key No. 2: Have Their Best Players Playing Well
If any team is going to win a playoff series, their best players have to be playing their best.
For the Kings, that means Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty have to rise to the occasion.
Kopitar is the lynchpin of the Los Angeles offense. His size and skill make him difficult to contain. In fact, the Kings' top center has at least a point in all seven playoff games this season.
In the three games the Kings lost, Kopitar had three assists. But in the four games his club won, Kopitar scored four goals and seven points.
Doughty has a tendency of playing his best hockey in big games. His outlet passes help the Kings transition to offense, and he is capable of taking over a game for long stretches of time in all three zones.
If these two players are at their best, the Kings are capable of beating anybody on any given night, including the Ducks.
Ducks Key No. 2: Get Traffic in Front of Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Quick has shined over the course of his playoff career. In 2012, the Milford, Connecticut, native led the Kings to the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship.
In 57 career playoff games, Quick has a 2.15 GAA and a .927 save percentage. He has also recorded eight postseason shutouts.
The Ducks have several forwards with good size, and they need to use that to their advantage. Screening Quick and getting players in front of the goal to pounce on any rebounds Quick may give up will give the Ducks a chance to score more frequently.
The Sharks reduced Quick's effectiveness in the first two games of their opening-round series. Now, after a strong finish, Quick's confidence has returned.
The Ducks need to get Quick off his game and take that confidence down a notch or two. If Anaheim can accomplish that goal in Game 1, they can set the tone for the early part of the series.
Kings Key No. 3: Don't Let the Ducks' First Line Beat You
The Anaheim Ducks are deep at forward, and they are very capable of scoring a lot of goals. During the regular season, they scored more goals than any other team in the league.
But the Kings cannot allow the dynamic duo of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf to score with regularity. If the second- and third-line players are able to score consistently, you tip your cap to them, but don't let your opponent's best players beat you.
If Perry and Getzlaf are producing a lot of points, the Kings are in trouble.
Ducks Key No. 3: Break Down the Kings Defense
The Ducks scored the most goals in the league this season, while the Kings allowed the fewest. This battle will be a big key to this series.
Anaheim has to find a way to get Los Angeles out of its shutdown defense that was so effective at smothering the Sharks' attack in the final four games of the opening round.
Darryl Sutter's club is very good at making that first outlet pass, and they use their size to backcheck effectively and shut down opposing attacks.
The Ducks have to find a way to create room in the attack zone and to build up some speed in the neutral zone to start their attack. That worked well for San Jose in the first three games of the playoffs, but then the Kings adjusted.
A chess match between Darryl Sutter and Bruce Boudreau could develop over the course of the opening game. The winner of that matchup will have a big advantage in Game 1 and beyond.