Freeway Face-Off comes to Staples Center

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Today the Freeway Face Off returns to Staples Center, for the fourth game of the season series between the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings. For Southern California hockey fans, this is the rivalry they wait for in the summer. Who rules the southern half of the state?

Kings in Anaheim Feb. 19

Up north it’s all about the San Jose Sharks, who made it to the Stanley Cup Final last season, only to lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a five-game series.

That’s another big rivalry for the Kings, one that’s older than their rivalry with Anaheim. But the close proximity of the Honda Center (home ice of the Ducks) and Staples Center makes a game between the Ducks and Kings a big event on the NHL calendar. After today’s game there will be one more regular season match up — the final game of the season for both clubs, Sunday, April 9 in Anaheim.

It’s no secret the Kings are not doing well. Their big problem all season has been scoring. They’ve had more pucks bounce off the pipes of the nets than we could count. The Kings have skated well, but haven’t been able to convert on their scoring opportunities.

Peter Budaj, the Kings goalie who is taking the place of the injured Jonathan Quick, has done a pretty good job. There have been some games where he has given up a lot of goals, but lax defense played a part in many of those games.

Ducks Goalie John Gibson in Anaheim Feb. 19

Over all, the Kings’ D has been solid all year. They have lost by one or two goals in many cases, so Los Angeles has been in most of their games this season. If they start converting on many of their scoring chances they could actually squeak into a wild card slot.

Anaheim is doing much better. If they continue on as they are doing they will at least be a wild card team. They just acquired center Patrick Eaves from the Dallas Stars to beef up their scoring. He has 21 goals on the season and 16 saves. An 11-year veteran, Eaves will only add to the Ducks’s chances to make it deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Anaheim won that last meeting between these two on February 19 at the Honda Center, so they lead the season series 2-1.

Kings Goalie Peter Budaj in Anaheim Feb. 19

Who wins this game will be a big deal to the sold out crowd at Staples Center and the millions of hockey fans around Southern California tuning in to the game. It will be a tough, physical game, as it always is when the Ducks and Kings get together on the ice. And you can bet there are thousands of Ducks fans at Staples Center today, just as there are thousands of Kings fans at the Honda Center when the series is in Anaheim.

The puck drops at 1 p.m.

Below is Claudia Gestro’s video report from the game at the Honda Center in Anaheim, February 19.

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UPDATE: The Kings managed to pull out the win after going scoreless for the first two periods.

The big news was the return of goalie Jonathan Swift who had been out since the first game of the season, October 12. Swift did well, giving up just one goal in the first period to Andrew Cogliano nearly 17 minutes into the first period.

The second period was all defense and fights. Kings center Jeff Carter got into his first fight as a Los Angeles King. Both he and Ryan Kesler of the Ducks received five minute majors for fighting. After the game Kings coach Darryl Sutter was asked if he told Carter not to get in fights. Sutter looked surprised and said, “That’s a really dumb question. That}s a really physical game and when you’re talking about guys that play each other a lot, whether it’s Getslaf and Kopitar or Kesler and Carter — that’s way better … that [somebody] recognizes that Jonathan Quick is the emotional leader, then people that know the game understand that Jeff Carter is an emotional leader too.”

Kings Goalie Jonathan Quick

But it was the third period scoring that got the Kings fans at Staples Center on their feet. Center Tyler Toffoli got it started with a tap-in off a rebound from a Tanner Pearson shot. Four minutes later Toffoli got his second goal off a pass from Carter that slid under the feet of Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler who was face down on the ice trying to block the shot.

Dustin Brown scored on a deflection from right winger Dustin Brown and then Carter scored an empty net goal to finish out the game.

Afterwards Quick told the media, “I think the game kind of led to the third. I thought we were playing great leading up to it. We were creating chances, and played hard, heavy. I think if we don’t play like that in the first two periods, then we don’t get four in the third, so it was kind of, we got rewarded for our work over 60 minutes.”

As for his groin injury, Quick said, “Everything feels good. I wouldn’t have played if it didn’t feel good.,” adding, “We tested it in practice. They wouldn’t have given me the green light if we didn’t try everything in practice.”

The Ducks are now three points behind the division-leading San Jose Sharks and tied with the Edmonton Oilers. The Kings are 13 points behind the Sharks.

Below is the video report by Claudia Gestro from Jonathan Quick’s post-game press conference from the locker room.

Photos by Claudia Gestro