Kings-Ducks rivalry a clash of personalities, not styles
Teams that match up evenly, similarly in on-ice personnel are very different otherwise
LONG BEACH, Calif. — The freeway they refer to in this so-called Freeway Series could be just about any one, or a combination of several: the 405, the I-5, the 57, the 605, the 22, the 710, the 105 to 110 to downtown Los Angeles.
It's like the old Johnny Carson skit, where he plays Art Fern of the Department of Highways with his pointer and the map of all the various ways to get lost trying to navigate the maze of Southern California roadways ("Take the Slauson Cutoff. Cut off your Slauson. Get back in the car …”)
From this vantage point, trying for a spot to camp that's approximately equidistant from L.A.'s Staples Center and Anaheim's Honda Center, it's a fascinating study watching two very evenly-matched teams go at it while never having to board a plane, only busing to each other's buildings.
Or, in the case of the Ducks, shunning the Kings' practice facility, even while staying in a hotel in L.A. between Games 3 and 4.
It's a study of two hockey franchises — one (1967 for the Kings) very much senior to the other (1993), each with a single Stanley Cup in its trophy case — that could scarcely be more different in personality.
Starting at the top with the general managers, Ducks' crimson-complected Bob Murray, who apprenticed under Brian Burke, and Kings' mad professor Dean Lombardi, the teams diverge in sharply different directions only to arrive at the same point.
Tied 2-2 heading into Monday night's fifth game at Anaheim, home ice has meant nothing so far, with the road team winning all four meetings.
L.A.'s fans have travelled to Anaheim in the thousands, but the traffic has mostly been one-way, so the Kings have felt right at home in either building. The Ducks have had to make their own emotion when at Staples.
The head coaches, garrulous Bruce Boudreau of Anaheim and terse Darryl Sutter of L.A., were brilliantly described by the Orange Country Register, pre-series, as Gabby versus Crabby. (Gabby is Boudreau's actual nickname.)
Boudreau can give you a colourful treatise on just about any topic, and hangs around after formal scrums to chit-chat with whoever has a follow-up query.
Sutter can convey more in a few words than most coaches in an hour, but can be chillingly dismissive of foolish questions and just generally treats post-game news conferences like visits to the proctologist's office.
They have waged a war of a single much-decorated goaltender, L.A.'s amazing Jonathan Quick — who was stunningly yanked after one period Saturday, but is the unquestioned franchise 'keeper — against three different ones chosen (so far) by the Ducks' brain trust: Jonas Hiller, Frederik Andersen and now the ballyhooed rookie, John Gibson.
"Obviously, it's an amazing story," Anaheim's iconic 43-year-old Finn, Teemu Selanne, said of Gibson's 2-0, Game 4 shutout of the Kings after his call-up from the minors.
"It's unbelievable that these young guys, how ready those guys are at a young age. There must be good junior programs and minor leagues, because when those guys come up they are ready right away."
Asked if Gibson conjures up images of rookie Ken Dryden coming in for the Canadiens in 1971, Selanne said: "I'm not that old."
But the Kings have gotten a bellyful of the Gibson storyline the past two days, and aren't eager to be beaten by a rookie.
"It seems like he's going to be a great goalie for years to come, but let's not anoint him yet," said L.A.'s clever forward Justin Williams. "This is a playoff series, and a lot goes into it. We're going to put our pedal down tonight and see what happens."
As for Quick, Selanne said, "I just wish that he's going to be a normal human being, and just a normal goalie, not like a superhero like the first couple of games."
There is a very significant contrast, too, of inferiority versus superiority complex — the Ducks, ever eager to please with nearly unlimited access to players, versus the locked-down Kings, who (no doubt on orders from above) send out their nominees one at a time, and only a hand-picked few most days, to recite clichés to vast scrums of reporters, some of whom are old enough to remember the one-on-one interview.
Moreover — recalling the old Montreal-Quebec rivalry in which each franchise tried to out-do the other in the opulence of their food offerings to media covering their playoff meetings — the gustatory gauntlet has been thrown down by the Ducks.
Their morning-skate standard buffet includes yogurt with granola and fruit, croissants, Danish pastries, juice, coffee and bottled water, so they were tickled by a reporter's photograph from a Kings skate, where it appeared someone had been assigned to stop in at the 7-Eleven for a couple of plastic trays of cupcakes and a bunch of very green bananas.
The Kings were not pleased, and raised the stakes with wraps and sandwiches, but the Ducks responded Sunday with a veritable feast of In-N-Out burgers, fries and milkshakes.
We should point out here that the media cannot be bought by these blatant attempts to influence coverage. Rented, maybe.
But while the P.R. staffs insist the back-and-forth is purely friendly, there is an unmistakable edge to the contest: the little brothers intent on showing up the older siblings.
On the ice, where it matters, these are two very deep rosters with skill and speed from the first line to the fourth, with plenty of toughness up and down the lineup but no overt goons, with coaches who have been around the block several times.
Each team scored eight goals through four games of this series, each has recovered well from setbacks — Sutter's sarcastic M*A*S*H reference ("Radar and Hawkeye had to get me up to come here today," he said Sunday) notwithstanding. And it's not far-fetched to imagine these California rivals renewing their playoff battle, year after year, for quite some time. And getting unfriendlier with each passing year, like the traffic on the freeways.
Luckily, neither team has to take the Slauson Cutoff.
"Naw," said Kings centre Anze Kopitar. "We get to take the carpool lane. It's 40 minutes to Anaheim."
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