Compared to other geographic blood feuds, the intensity between Anaheim and Los Angeles is completely underappreciated.
Even as the defending champs clinched a playoff spot last night and the Kings continued to royally suck, their fans approach these battles of California by as much cynicism and funny as any other NHL hate-fest. Hey, if this rivalry is good enough to get Troy Polamalu to stop worrying about the NFL's anti-Fabio flowing hair policy and enjoy some puck, then it's good enough for us.
The Ducks beat the Kings in the skills competition last night, 2-1, as rookie goalie Jonas Hiller started in place of the back-spasming Giggy. The win gave Anaheim the "California Cup" this season, having gone 10-3-1 against the Kings and the Sharks, who are the "Nightline" in this Leno vs. Letterman feud. Much more entertaining than the Ducks/Kings game were the barbed volleys between the fan bases before and after the final horn. Like Ducks loyalist Girl With a Puck declaring the loss the "end of the Queens' season." Or the indispensable Rudy Kelly on Battle of California previewing the game thusly: "LA Kings (#1 in 4th liners!) @ Anaheim Ducks (#1 in gay!)"
The Lincoln-Douglas debates, they're not. But that's what's endearing about this rivalry between two teams in non-traditional hockey markets: There's a certain goofiness that's inherent here - not as goofy as the Ducks' third jersey from a few years back, but goofy nonetheless. That's not to diminish the passionate loathing these fans have for each other, as expertly explained by writer Marie Stiles in her pre-game tale about being a Kings fan at The Pond. She also exhibited some passionate loathing after the Kings' loss for her own coach, Marc Crawford, who mismanaged his talent in the six-round shootout. Brian Willsie? Seriously:
"...like fucking clockwork, Willsie made a pitiful shootout attempt, Hiller made an easy save, and I went to pull out the knife that Marc Crawford had stabbed in my back. Thanks, Crow. Thanks for throwing in the towel in the 6th round. Thanks for saying "F YOU!" to every single Kings fan."
I just realized I typed "non-traditional hockey market" above, and I apologize for that. The NHL's been in Los Angeles as long as it's been in Minnesota, so L.A. is a hockey town. The battle lines on this are drawn: You can either be some dickweed from England who attends a late-season game for a team in the draft lottery and makes sweeping generalizations about hockey apathy in California; or you can appreciate the nuttiness of this Ducks/Kings rivalry, and wonder what it'll look like if the Kings decide to join the living once again. In the meantime, enjoy hockey in LA for what it currently is: An excuse to watch L.C. from "The Hills" sucking down some overpriced suds.
With Peter, North. Last night's 6-3 win for Colorado over Vancouver will be remembered for two reasons. First, it may be the loss that triggers a Canucks' spiral down into the eighth seed at best, or out of the postseason at worst; as the Vancouver Sun put it, "Their grip looks feeble and their season doomed if they play as recklessly and ineptly defensively as they did against the Avalanche." Roberto Luongo was yanked after giving up five goals on 23 shots. It's never good to yank your Luongo that early.
More important, it could be the game where Colorado discovered lightning in a bottle: Peter Forsberg, Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk, a line that combined for nine points last night. Colorado is now 5-1 with Floppa in the lineup; they're also just two points in back of the Flames for the five seed. Ducks and Avs in the first round, with either Pronger or Forsberg grabbing their 5-iron after the series? Yes, please.
In other action last night, Edmonton refused to throw a pity party for itself after a 3-1 loss to Minnesota. Niklas Backstrom had 32 saves for the Wild, who moved back into first place in their division. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks have clearly decided to Commit To the Draft.
If the Playoffs Started Today. The Campbell Conference playoff picture changed almost completely last night (Minnesota and Dallas in the first round ... if these teams had any balls, Dallas would put up the name "Stars" and Minny would put up Marian Gaborik in a winner-takes-all wager). With six games tonight, it's the Wales Conference's turn for some clusterfucking: Sidney Christ returns for Pittsburgh against the Islanders; the Bruins play the Leafs after learning Marc Savard has a broken back...but don't worry, it's the good kind; Ovechkin's in Tampa; Buffalo continues the long and winding choke in Ottawa; and the Rangers play a Devils team that couldn't score if they were a Mega Millions winner at the Bunny Ranch.
* Kevin Greenstein selects MVPs for all 30 teams. Somehow, when he got to Montreal, he spelled "Alexei Kovalev" as "Andrei Markov." Whoops. [New York Sun]
* Criminal charges for Patrick Roy's kid? Good to know that police action in Canada is now being fueled by famous offspring on YouTube clips. [Mike on Crime]
* Dennis Miller's brother is producing a movie that's filming at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh. Hey, I'm as big a Powers Boothe fan as the next guy, but even I'm happy it's not "Sudden Death 2: Die Suddener." [The FanHouse]
* So 10 of the 12 teams with the lowest payrolls are currently out of the postseason picture. Water is wet, oranges are orange, all of it. [USA TODAY]
* Awesomeness: Introducing the Mike Lange Tournament of Quotes. Well, shave my face with a rusty razor! [Going Five Hole]
* Finally, two foreign guys have a homo-erotic hockey fight in their backyard. Or as I like to call it, "Thursday."