Mark these words from Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, because you'll probably see and hear them again come playoff time and once the season ends:
Boudreau when asked about the Kings and Ducks possibly meeting in playoffs again: 'We hope they don't make it.'— Curtis Zupke (@curtiszupke) March 18, 2015
Let that sink in for a moment. The head coach of the Pacific Division leaders, a team currently tied for most points in the league (though have played one and three more games than two of the other tied teams) just publicly admitted that either he and/or his team want no part of the defending Stanley Cup champions.
It's one thing for fans on social media to be openly rooting for Los Angeles to miss the playoffs, hoping that somehow this edition of the Kings joins the likes of the 2007 Carolina Hurricanes and 1996 New Jersey Devils as defending title winners failing to qualify. It's another thing entirely when a coach who has a track record of gaudy regular season success and second season struggle, as a face for the team and the franchise, essentially endorses that sentiment on the record.
Make no mistake about it, the Ducks postseason path would be much more manageable without the team that's won more playoff series over the past three seasons than any other in the league standing in the way. To say that the Kings shouldn't be respected is foolhardy, as many of the issues the team faced earlier in the season (injuries, depleted defense, taking too many penalties) have begun righting themselves as they always seem to do at the critical point of the season for the silver and black. Yet there's a massive difference between acknowledging this, and sounding like a kid at school who hopes the bully won't be around to steal their lunch money.
Anaheim has played Los Angeles well this regular season, having already guaranteed the series win thanks to a 3-0-1 mark with two wins coming in the shootout. While the Ducks went 4-0-1 against LA last season they were outshot by a cumulative 186-114 margin, relying heavily on spectacular goaltending from Frederik Andersen (.949 SV% in three games) and Jonas Hiller (.977 SV% in two games) in doing so. This year Anaheim have outshot the Kings through four games 141-113 (aided in large part by the massive 49-26 edge in their first meeting on November 12), and have out-attempted the Kings in two of the four games at even strength. These numbers will likely hold to give the Ducks the series shooting edge for the first time since 2008-09. Taking shot numbers as possession proxies, it gives the statistical basis to back up that this team has played the rivals up the 5 better than any in recent history.
Yet now, 11 games before the Ducks likely claim a third consecutive regular season division title and enter the playoffs with home ice guaranteed through the first two rounds, instead of pumping up his squad Boudreau's words smack of a vote of no confidence. With John Gibson shouldering a heavy workload in many recent games, getting handled twice in the last five, and needing third period heroics to claim the most recent win over Nashville, perhaps this is a psychological ploy to fire up his team. After all, Darryl Sutter famously called Gibson "the best goalie (he'd) ever seen" in the lead up to game six last year.
On the surface though it's extremely poor optics, painting a picture of dread at the thought of facing the Angeleno nemesis. Don't think for one second that this isn't playing well in the Los Angeles locker room too- for a group that has won the Stanley Cup in blistering fashion as an eight seed, as well as surviving three seven game series including a comeback from 0-3 deficit in the first round, the publicly stark lack of confidence coming from Orange County must seem like blood in the water.
Perhaps this raises the hackles because of Boudreau's history with the Capitals, and his three wins in nine career playoff series. It sounds an awful lot like the talk of at the very least someone lacking assurance, or at worst a loser.
However things shake out for the Ducks this year, this admission by the head coach can certainly be looked at as a pivot point down the stretch. Whether it's the fire lit under the team that launches them on a deep playoff run, or the first trickle of a dam that bursts in the opening round has yet to be written. But heading in to the final regular season meeting and a national broadcast it definitely adds another layer of intrigue.
Wednesday may be all about the night you love to hate. Right now though coming from Anaheim's coach it doesn't exactly sound like it.