NEWARK, N.J. – Los Angeles has waited nearly 20 years for the Kings to make their second trip to the Stanley Cup finals. And they might have picked the perfect time to get there.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers are out of the NBA playoffs, and the Anaheim Ducks didn’t make it to the NHL postseason.
Sure, the Dodgers and Angels are making plenty of headlines, but it is still so early in the baseball season that they haven’t captured the full attention of Southern California yet.
Enter the Kings, who are looking to be the talk of a very big town.
“In L.A., hockey’s definitely not something,” Kings star defenseman Drew Doughty said Tuesday.
That only tells part of the story. The Kings have been so far off the radar, some L.A. residents aren’t even familiar with the team.
“What do you do?” Doughty recalled being asked. “I play for the Kings,” he replied.
And then the response that really hurt: “The Sacramento Kings?”
A shiny Stanley Cup could change things in a heartbeat.
“No one knows anything about hockey,” Doughty said. “It’s a great thing that people are finally coming to games. There’s so many times when I hear people telling me it’s their first hockey game and they had so much fun.
“It’s great that we can kind of put L.A. on the map as a hockey city.”
The Staples Center in L.A. will be the site of Games 3 and 4, and then Game 6 if the series goes that long.
“You’re going to have six million hockey fans,” forward Mike Richards said. “When we had the opportunity to wrap up the (second round) series against St. Louis, that was probably the loudest I ever heard a building probably for that two or three-minute span.”
Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello made a rare slip talking about New Jersey’s fourth-line center Stephen Gionta.
Gionta’s name came up when Lamoriello discussed how the team handled the broken wrist sustained by Jacob Josefson with two games left in the regular season. He said the organization thought Brian Gionta was the safest player to bring up because he knew the system and could do anything.
Problem is, Brian Gionta is a former Devil who is now the captain of the Montreal Canadiens. He is Stephen’s older brother.
When told that he mixed up his Giontas, Lamoriello laughed.
“I call him that all the time,” Lamoriello said. “I call my kids different names, too.”
The Devils’ fourth line of Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and former Vancouver Canuck Steve Bernier has been a pleasant surprise for New Jersey in the postseason, scoring nine goals and posting a combined rating of plus-16.
DOC ON TV
Mike Emrick, who retired as the Devils’ television play-by-play commentator after 21 seasons, will be doing the play by play of the finals for NBC (Ch. 5 and KONG 6/16).
It’s not the first time “Doc” has handled a final featuring the Devils. He also did it in 1995, 2000, ’01 and ’03.
“The good thing working at Madison Square Garden all those years was that they wanted it treated like a network show anyway,” Emrick said. “In terms of the objectivity, it has to be straight down the middle. We’ve been here a few times with this. It won’t be that much different than any other show we’ve done on NBC, let alone any other show that I have been doing.”
Devils defenseman Peter Harrold played with the Kings for five seasons before signing with the Devils. He talked with some of his former teammates in the regular season but said “there’s a communications blackout” now. … Devils defenseman Andy Greene seems to have the best playoff beard on the team. The grizzly man on the Kings is Dustin Penner. … Penner also has the best taste in music on the Kings, forward Jarret Stoll said. “He hangs out with a DJ buddy of his, and he’s pretty in tune with what’s going on,” Stoll said.
STANLEY CUP FINALS PREVIEW
NEW JERSEY DEVILS VS. LOS ANGELES KINGS
HOW THEY GOT HERE: New Jersey (sixth seed in Eastern Conference) beat No. 3 Florida, 4-3 No. 5 Philadelphia 4-1, and No. 1 New York Rangers 4-2. Los Angeles (eighth seed in West) beat No. 1 Vancouver 4-1, No. 2 St. Louis 4-0, and No. 3 Phoenix 4-1.
SEASON RESULTS: New Jersey won both games – 2-1 in an overtime shootout Oct. 13 at home and 3-0 at L.A. on Oct. 25.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: First meeting.
FRANCHISE HISTORY: New Jersey entered the NHL as the Kansas City Scouts from 1974-76, then became the Colorado Rockies from 1976-82 before moving to New Jersey in 1982. Los Angeles was one of six teams to join in the expansion season of 1967, along with the California Seals, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues.
ABOUT THE DEVILS: The Devils are in the Stanley Cup finals for the fifth time and are looking for their fourth title. New Jersey captured the Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003, and lost to Colorado in 2001. … Goalie Martin Brodeur has been there for all the finals appearances, and could call it a career at age 40 once this series is over — win or lose. … Brodeur injured his right shoulder against the Kings on Oct. 13 and missed six games. He didn’t earn his first win of the season until Nov. 5. Backup goalie Johan Hedberg earned both of New Jersey’s wins over the Kings, with the first coming in relief after Brodeur was injured. Hedberg, who has played only 36 minutes in the playoffs this season, was in for all but one period in the regular-season games against Los Angeles. The former Vancouver Canuck stopped 31 shots by the Kings on Oct. 25 for his 18th NHL shutout. … Captain Zach Parise leads the Devils with seven playoff goals and is second with 14 points. He led the way in the conference finals against the Rangers when he had six points (three goals, three assists) in the series. This could be the last hurrah for Parise with New Jersey as he is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in July 1. … The finals will be the first series this postseason in which New Jersey has home-ice advantage.
ABOUT THE KINGS: The Kings are in the finals for the second time in team history, having lost in five games to Montreal in 1993. … The Kings have won an NHL-record eight consecutive road playoff games — the first team to do it in one playoff year. … The Kings are the first team to take an undefeated road record into the finals since the conference format started in 1994. … The Kings are the second No. 8 seed to get to the finals under the current postseason format (Edmonton in 2006) and the first to eliminate the top three seeded teams in the conference in succession. … Los Angeles has excelled behind Vezina Trophy finalist Jonathan Quick, who is 12-2 with a 1.54 goals-against average and .946 save percentage in the playoffs. … On offense, the Kings are paced by their top line of captain Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. That trio was especially dominant in the second-round win over St. Louis when they combined for six goals and nine assists in the four-game sweep. … Left wing Simon Gagne could be a wild card, having been medically cleared to play for the first time since a concussion sidelined him Dec. 26. … Brown and Kopitar have combined for 31 points in 14 playoff games, and each is a plus-13.
DEVILS TRIVIA: New Jersey defenseman Bryce Salvador and right wing Cam Janssen were traded for each other in 2008 when St. Louis sent Salvador to the Devils for Janssen. Janssen rejoined the Devils as a free agent in 2011.
KINGS TRIVIA: Kopitar is the first player from Slovenia to play in the NHL. He became a celebrity in Los Angeles in 2006 during his rookie season when a graffiti artist spray painted a likeness of Kopitar’s face near freeway ramps in a similar style to Shepard Fairey’s famous “Obey” portrayal of Andre the Giant.
PREDICTION: Devils in six games.McClatchy news services