LOS ANGELES, CA — Although the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers have played 41 combined postseason games over the previous six weeks, they still have ample energy for the big finale to their epic playoff chase.
“No, you don’t get tired right now,” said Kings forward Marian Gaborik, the former 40-goal scorer for the Rangers. “All you think about is winning the Stanley Cup.”
When they meet at Staples Center on Wednesday night to begin the first New York-L.A. Cup final in NHL history, the Rangers and Kings are prepared for one more exhausting series in a spring filled with two-week sagas, nail-biting finishes and Game 7 heroics.
No team in NHL history had made it to the Stanley Cup finals after going seven games in each of the first two rounds — until New York and Los Angeles both did it this spring. The Kings even went one longer, playing the maximum 21 games.
Yet neither team will be satisfied without one more achievement. The Rangers haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1994, while the Kings are just two years removed from their only NHL championship. Two franchises long familiar with losing have the chance to raise the Cup again, and the players already felt the energy building when they went through practices Tuesday.
“It’s definitely been a grind, but that’s why you play hockey,” Kings forward Jeff Carter said. “We know what we went through to get here, and we’re willing to go through a little more.”
Five things to watch when the Kings host Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in franchise history:
PLAYING FAVORITES: Although Los Angeles won just one more regular-season game than New York, most hockey observers think the Kings are strong favorites after they survived three playoff rounds in the superior Western Conference. Neither team is listening: The Kings aren’t interested in prognostication, and the Rangers relish the pressure-free role of an underdog. “It doesn’t matter about public opinion, media opinion,” New York’s Martin St. Louis said. “We’re still here, and we know we have a chance.”
GOOD TO GO: Kings goalie Jonathan Quick said he’s fine after leaving practice a bit early Tuesday when he took a shot off his collarbone. Although the Kings are the NHL’s highest-scoring playoff team, defense-minded Los Angeles needs its franchise goalie in top form. Quick has won three straight Game 7s this spring, even if his statistics aren’t as impressive as they were in his Conn Smythe-winning season in 2012. The Rangers can’t expect Quick to help them out the way he did in New York’s only previous trip here in October, when he knocked Ryan McDonagh’s long clearing attempt into his own net during a 3-1 loss.
NO CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN: You won’t see a “C” on a blue shirt this series. If the Rangers win the Stanley Cup, they don’t have a captain to raise it after trading Ryan Callahan in March. That role is being played unofficially by Brad Richards, a healthy scratch in last season’s playoffs and a potential salary-cap casualty this summer. But the 2004 Conn Smythe winner, who flirted heavily with the Kings in free agency in 2011, is back in form this season. The Rangers likely need his resurgent offense to win that Cup.
DEWEY THE GREAT: Even after strong offensive efforts by Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter, the Kings believe their most dynamic playoff performer has been Drew Doughty. The inexhaustible defenseman is looking to add a second Stanley Cup title to his two Olympic gold medals, and he’s the current favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. Casual hockey fans who might not understand Doughty’s two-way brilliance should be in for a treat.
SECONDHAND FAMILIARITY: Although the two teams haven’t met in six months, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault led the Vancouver Canucks against Los Angeles for seven years, including two of the previous four postseasons. He knows all about Kings coach Darryl Sutter’s defense-minded system and Los Angeles’ hard-hitting style. “It’s a team that obviously has grown through the years. It has a real good balance. That’s why they’re getting another chance to compete for the Cup.”