ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Playoff hockey arrived early at Honda Center and the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings offered up quite an appetizer for the immediate future -- and maybe beyond.
The two rivals will face each other again in Saturday's anticipated outdoor game at Dodger Stadium but their tightly played engagement Thursday night stood on its own merit, with the Ducks coming away 2-1 victors.
Frederik Andersen stopped 30 shots and the Ducks (38-10-5) supported their goalie with second-period scores from Dustin Penner and Patrick Maroon in improving to 16-6-1 in games where they've allowed opponents the first goal.
After another bad first period, the Ducks gradually gained control and were willing to beat the Kings at their own grind-it-out game.
"It's always going to be like that against these guys," Penner said. "Especially with how the teams and the organizations have grown over the past decade. It's going to be a hard-fought game.
"This is the type of game that you put up on the bulletin board and say that's what playoff hockey is like."
Anze Kopitar put the Kings (29-17-6) on the scoreboard first when he converted a pass from Dwight King past Andersen just 3:13 into the game. It was Kopitar's first goal in 11 games.
But the Kings also made a trail to the penalty box and the Ducks finally made them pay when Penner banged the puck past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick during a scramble in front of the net.
Maroon provided the difference when he capped a strong game by the fourth line. The big winger took the puck around the Kings' net and jammed in a wrapround shot off Quick, who otherwise stopped 19 shots.
"When you don't score a lot, it feels good to get a goal once in awhile just to help the team get a spark," Maroon said. "It felt good tonight."
The clearest example of the Ducks willing to play a tough, physical game were the 48 hits they were credited with, which coach Bruce Boudreau said was a team record.
"I know every time we play this team, it's a man's game and you better be prepared to hit and be hit," Boudreau said. "Because they're so good."
MAROON STICKING IN NHL
The puck dropped onto the ice at Pepsi Center on an October night and Pat Maroon was planted with his Ducks teammates on the bench as he awaited his first shift against the Colorado Avalanche.
Not only had Maroon made the team out of training camp but here he was in the lineup. And the big winger has been with the Ducks ever since.
It illustrates how far Maroon has come from a tantalizing project who might top out in the American Hockey League to a player who has earned a full-time roster spot in the NHL.
And while the St. Louis native is far from a star who's making seven figures or even a regular whose spot is guaranteed, Maroon is one who relishes the place he's at in his hockey career and doesn't hide how much he savors it.
"It's been great," Maroon said. "It's been fun. The best part is I'm on the best team too, in the NHL. And I get to be part of that. That's been my dream ever since I started in pro hockey, to make the NHL."
The biggest break Maroon got was when the Ducks acquired him from Philadelphia in a four-player swap of minor leaguers during the fall of 2010. Maroon put up numbers with the Flyers' AHL affiliate but was sent home after a falling out with its then-coach Greg Gilbert.
Changing organizations gave Maroon a new lease on his career but also had him taking stock after being unable to crack the Flyers squad in two-plus years. The winger scored 21 goals for the Syracuse Crunch following the trade and led them with 32 in 2011-12.
It was in that season that Maroon made his NHL debut with the Ducks. He played in only two games but it was that brief experience that got him to push himself further on and, more important, off the ice.
The guiding hand of Trent Yawney, his coach with Syracuse and Norfolk when the Ducks swapped affiliates with Tampa Bay, is something Maroon puts great value in.
"He's the one that really pushed me to be a professional," Maroon said. "I can't thank him enough, coming in here, sitting me down and telling me this is what you need to do. And this is what people see in you. It's all in your hands so you can take control."
Maroon's stats are modest but he put in his fourth goal in 33 games with a second-period tally Thursday against the Kings at Honda Center. It is a different role with the Ducks, that of an energy player to throw around his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame.
Sometimes that role requires the winger to drop the gloves, which Maroon readily does when the situation calls for it. Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau calls him a "self-made" player who has proved he is more than an AHL scorer.
"I thought he was an NHL player last year," Boudreau said. "We just didn't have the room for him. For me, I always looked at him as one of the leading scorers in the American League, a leading penalty-minute getter and he's got a big, NHL body.
"Everybody said his skating was lacking. But I think if you practice every day with faster skaters and you play every game with faster skaters, your skating will pick up. His confidence has grown a little bit."
Maroon has appreciated the faith shown by Boudreau.
"He has rewarded me all year," Maroon said. "At the beginning of the year when (Dustin) Penner went down, he gave me the opportunity to play with the two best players in the NHL. And that was pretty cool to be part of that.
"Obviously, they see me in all different roles here. If it's being the guy to get the team going, I'd be the guy to do that."
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