Montreal and Boston, Philadelphia and New York, Detroit and Toronto. These are some of the most historic and long lasting NHL rivalries to this day. Bad blood, sweat and Stanley Cup playoff contention are what fuel such timeless and brutal contests between these teams, and as the season begins the final stretch into the post-season, the top spot in the Pacific division is being fought for through one of the hottest rivalries in the league.
The west coast rivalry between Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose is one that often gets forgotten by a majority of the hockey world, but for those living in the Unionâ€™s most populous state, the rivalry is more alive than ever. Currently, the Pacific division is lead by the three golden state teams with Los Angeles heading the charge. Although LA is leading, Anaheim was only a few points behind and as of Feb. 24th the point differential between first and third was only four points.
From day one, Los Angeles has been at the helm of the division with all pistons firing to create a mean hockey machine. Hard hitting, excellent defense, and scoring from all four lines has been the formula for the Kingsâ€™ success this season. The addition of Milan Lucic has added some extra flavor to the Kingsâ€™ offense. Lucicâ€™s 22 assists and countless hits have given Los Angeles just one more weapon to an all-star roster. At one point during the season, the team carried a lead of over 10 points on the divisions last place team; however, a laundry list of losses in early February threatened to dethrone them. The Kings have begun to relight the fire as the playoff near.
Similar to the Kings, the San Jose Sharks have been quite consistent during the â€™15-â€™16 season. At 32-21-6, the Sharks they are contenders for the playoffs. For the Sharks, large margins of their 32 wins have come playing as the away team, winning 21 contests outside of the Shark Tank. Leading the Sharks in goals is Joe Pavelski with 26, but the Sharks have been sharing the love and have over seven players with 10 or more goals. The Sharks grind and press to win games, and have a good balance of size and skill. Big bodies like Joe Thorton and skilled shooters like Pavelski and Burns have put San Jose in a great position to make a playoff run. Consistency has been the name of the game for both LA and San Jose, but not so much for the second place Anaheim Ducks.
Two months ago the Ducks were at the bottom of the NHL alongside the Blue Jackets. Dismal offense and a non-existent defense had even the most die-hard fans in panic mode. Star players such as Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf had single digit goal counts and starting goalie Fredric Anderson was being sat for John Gibson, whom management pulled up from the AHL. But just as fast as the Ducks descended the ranks of the league, they climbed back up. How? They started scoring. Anaheim over the past few years has become notorious for having defensemen who can shoot the puck, but these past two seasons, the Ducks have been deadly from the point. Stellar performances from Sami Vatenen and Hampus Lindholm help keep Anaheim afloat when the teamâ€™s forwards struggled to put the puck into the back of the net. Goaltending has also started to improve for the Ducks and the team has reverted back to their duel goalie system. Strong play from Gibson and Anderson in the crease has helped to limit the number of overtime games the team must play. Since their early season woes, the Ducks have managed to come back to a respectable 32-19-8.
Overtime has been a blessing and a cure for the two southern California teams. The Kings have basked in the glory of winning a large majority of their overtime contests, while the Ducks have done the opposite.
Reaching the playoffs is still a month or two away for each of these three teams, but they all have major thing to consider in these final months. For Los Angeles it is to continue to hustle the scoreboard. Since their Stanley Cup win in 2012, the Kings have proven that no lead in safe until the final whistle. If Los Angeles can continue to score in 6-on-5 situation in the final minutes of regulation, then they should be in a safe place moving forward. For Anaheim it is just as simple: win in regulation. They have finally begun to play as a cohesive unit, but the 3-on-3 rules in overtime still plague the team. Ryan Getzlaf and his men need to realize that avoiding the overtime period at all costs could land them as the Pacificâ€™s second seed for the quarter finals of the playoffs. Finally for San Jose, keep the consistencies going. The Sharks have been one of the most consistent team in the division over the past few years and have been dangerous this season out scoring opponents by three or four goals on multiple occasions.
This race for the Pacific division is close and each team truly does have the potential to be division champions. Yes, it is exciting to see the point margin so close between in the Pacific, but the most exciting part is that it is bring California and west coast hockey to a new level. Hockey is no longer just market for those living in the snow and ice, but also for those of us who prefer flip-flops and board shorts. The California hockey market is now a part of great hockey rivalry history and the three-way battle for the golden state is one that will live on for years to come.