Thursday, February 4, 2010

Kings-Ducks: The Last Time it Mattered This Much

It was 1993. December 2nd to be exact. The Kings were crashing hard, coming down from their high of going to the Stanley Cup Finals just seven months earlier. Now they were near the bottom of the Western Conference and riding a six game losing streak.

Staring them in the face was their worst nightmare - an expansion team. The Disney owned Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were in their inaugural season, which may not sound like much of a threat to the incumbent. However, the Kings - long struggling to carve out their niche in a city known for paying more attention to the Dodgers and Lakers - now faced a new worry. A second NHL team in SoCal.

And so it began. A rivalry of sorts. With both teams tied in the standings at 20 points apiece, it was time for the first ever Kings-Ducks game.

Adding concern and worry for even the most die hard Kings fan was the fact that coach Barry Melrose was starting Rick Knickle in goal, not Kelly Hrudey or Robb Stauber (the two guys that carried the team through the '93 playoffs). No, he was going with a guy that was playing for the San Diego Gulls the season prior. If you've never heard of Knickle or the Gulls, that tells you all you need to know.

Things only got worse when at the 10:13 mark of the first period the Mighty Ducks scored their first ever goal against the Kings. Peter Douris - who? - scored a power play goal to put the Ducks up 1-0. What it the world was going on?

How they were even on the power play is a mathematical marvel. Certainly it was a penalty filled period - one that resulted in the Mighty Ducks being short handed seven different times. On one of those power plays Luc Robitaille was able to score, tying up the game. It was at that precise moment you could hear the entire building exhale...briefly.

The second period wasn't nearly as exciting. The Kings were dominating the shot clock 33-10 after 40 minutes, but the game remained tied 1-1. Fans throughout the Fabulous Forum were on pins and needles as they headed to the concession stands and underground bathrooms for the second intermission.

Then Jari Kurri took over. He scored two goals in the first half of the third period, providing the Kings a little breathing room. His second came at 10:16. While the Kings were now up 3-1, that was a lot of time on the clock to kill.

Duck fans watching at home - they wouldn't dare go to the Forum back then, they weren't as obnoxious as they are now - probably thought there was plenty of time left for a Mighty comeback. Eventually, their confidence would increase. With just a few minutes left on the clock Robitaille went to the box for charging. Ducks coach Ron Wilson capitalized on the situation by pulling goalie Guy Hebert to give his team a two man advantage.

Shaun Van Allen scored for the Ducks and the hearts of 16,005 Kings fans in attendance nearly stopped pumping. We had a serious problem on our hands.

Wilson kept Hebert on the bench and the Ducks continued to pepper Knickle. Tick, tick, tick - time seemed to move so slowly. The final 82 seconds finally elapsed and the Kings had won the game 3-2.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. On that night the Kings let it be known, this was their town. "We had to win, let's be honest." said Kings captain Wayne Gretzky.

Well to be honest, the Ducks would eventually wrestle away bragging rights in the rivalry - making their own run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007 (note: in a cost cutting move the NHL canceled the Finals, thus no winner was ever crowned that me, what you think happened didn't happen...believe's just your mind playing tricks on you).

Further truth - the rivalry has never really lived up to the hype. Sure, many of the games through the years have had some heat. Yet, the old adage is that a rivalry isn't really a rivalry until two teams meet in the playoffs. Unfortunately, it hasn't happened.

That said, let's be clear about something...tonight's game is the most meaningful Kings-Ducks game since that initial contest. The Kings have been slowly ascending the ranks of the Western Conference this season and are currently riding a seven game winning streak. The Ducks have also been playing better of late, climbing back into the playoff race themselves.

The Kings won the first meeting of the season 4-3 in Anaheim. They also won the rematch a few weeks ago in LA, a dominant 4-0 victory.

While the Ducks might need this game more for the standings in the West, the Kings need this more for their psyche. They need to show themselves and their fans that this is THEIR town!

The next time a Kings-Ducks game will mean this much is when the teams meet in the playoffs someday.

Until then, tonight's the night. Time for the dominance to begin.

The Mayor

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