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(Jeff Gross/2011 Getty Images)
(Jeff Gross/2011 Getty Images)

The incredible rise of the NHL's California teams Add to ...

For the first time in NHL history, all three California teams are in the playoffs this season. And also, for the first time ever, the Los Angeles Kings will meet the San Jose Sharks in a playoff game tonight in Northern California.

Beginning when the Anaheim Ducks came into the league in 1993-94, the chart above tracks the total combined points per season for all three California teams, culminating with an all-time high of 303 points last season and then 302 this year.

I've compared their progress to other geographic trios around the NHL: The three New York City area teams in the Rangers, Islanders and Devils; the three Western Canadian teams and the three Eastern Canadian teams.

As you can see, it's rare to have three teams so close together all succeed to this degree in the same season.

For years, the California teams were struggling ones, with all three clubs often missing the playoffs together and the Sharks and Ducks labouring in their early expansion days. But since the lockout, those three franchises have averaged 97 points a season, with Anaheim becoming the first team in the state to win the Stanley Cup in 2007.

Compare that to 90 points, on average, for the New York teams, or 91 for the Canadian clubs, in the past six seasons.

"I realized [all three teams in the playoffs]hadn't happened before, so I was excited to see it when we got in," Ducks winger Teemu Selanne told The Associated Press. "I'm proud of the teams. We need this. Obviously for hockey here in Southern California, this is going to be a huge boost for both franchises, so I'm very happy about this situation."

The league brass have to be happy as well, as with all of the fires to put out elsewhere, California isn't one of them. The attendance issues that have affected many other warm weather NHL franchises have rarely been a major problem for the Kings, Ducks or Sharks and certainly not to the degree in places like Phoenix or Atlanta, where relocation is a definite possibility.

Part of the reason for that success likely stems from the fact that the league has simply been in California so long, expanding there with the Kings and California Seals in 1967 and really making headway when Wayne Gretzky went to Los Angeles in 1988.

Forty-four years after expansion and 23 after The Great One, more and more players born in the state are playing in the NHL and three recent first-round picks have come out of California. There's now even talk of how successful a California-based NCAA Division I team could potentially be given all of the prospects in the area.

An interesting trend to keep in mind as the teams take the ice in San Jose tonight.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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