Sports

Ducks vs. Kings 'Freeway' series comes down to Game 7

The Kings' Mike Richards battles with the Ducks' Bryan Allen as Saku Koivu, left, and Sami Vatanen, right, help out during Game 6 on Wednesday. KEVIN SULLIVAN, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

ANAHEIM – You wanted this all along, you die-hard Ducks and Kings supporters and the hockey fans that love a good border war. And you’re getting what you always imagined.

Two teams who have shared Southern California for 20 years finding out over six nascent playoff games that precious little separates them. The greatest divide has been the 30 miles in between.

This Game 7 had to happen. Honda Center. Friday night. Winner takes all.

“I think it’s good for this area,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said. “There’s a lot of excitement, and probably a lot of nervous people.

“Neither team wanted a Game 7, but from a fan perspective and Southern California perspective, it’s probably good for the growth of the game.”

There have been dueling car flags on the streets and battling billboards along the freeways. Perhaps some split households, too, with Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf enjoying the sight of a strolling couple adorned with opposing jerseys.

The back-and-forth series is at its logical conclusion. The Kings came into Orange County and won twice, while the Ducks answered with two in downtown L.A. The Ducks set to advance after winning Game 5, the Kings staying alive by capturing Game 6.

Four games decided by a single goal. The other two separated by just two goals. The Kings with 13 goals in all, the Ducks’ total the same.

It is down to one dealing a heavy dose of disappointment to the other for the right to face the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals that will begin Sunday.

“I think we knew what kind of team they were, coming from 3-0 down the previous series,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said Thursday. “We knew things weren’t going to be easy or quick, and we’d have to fight for everything we got. So Game 7 is pretty fitting.

“It’s one game, in our building, and we’ve played well here and we’re comfortable here. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”

Ah, Game 7 at home. It is the prize benefit that has been earned through success over a long 82-game season. Except it is an anchor that the Ducks and their coach, Bruce Boudreau, have to shake free from.

A year has passed, but the Ducks still regret their tepid 3-2 loss to Detroit on their ice. And then there’s the black mark on the Boudreau File – a 1-4 Game 7 record with all of the losses at home.

They’re not running away from either. The Ducks have used that lowlight as motivation for a record-breaking season while Boudreau simply says, “I’m due.”

“It means I’ve gotten there five times, right?” Boudreau said, chuckling. “You can’t pretend it’s not there. I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for players rather than something you worry about.

“If you worry about what if we lose or what are people going to say, then you’re going to lose. You’ve got to take this and say, ‘Hey, listen, this is a great chance to be a hero.’ And go out and be the hero.”

Kings coach Darryl Sutter has been applying not-so-subtle pressure on his Southern California rival, doing so on Ducks goalie John Gibson after the rookie entered the series and won Games 4 and 5.

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