NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — 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 gone from the NBA playoffs, and the Anaheim Ducks never made it to the NHL postseason.
Sure, the Los Angeles 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 fighting for their first Stanley Cup championship and looking to be the talk of a very big town.
“In L.A., hockey’s definitely not something,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty lamented Tuesday at media day.
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. To come down here, have that rivalry with the East Coast, it’s going to be great for hockey.”
Game 1 is Wednesday night in New Jersey. Los Angeles will host Games 3 and 4, and then Game 6 if the series goes that long. The Kings’ track record suggests it won’t as they knocked out Vancouver in five games in the first round, swept St. Louis in four in the second round, and took out Phoenix in five in the Western Conference finals in building a 12-2 postseason mark.
“You’re going to have six million hockey fans,” forward Mike Richards said. “When we had the opportunity to wrap up the series against St. Louis, that was probably the loudest I ever heard a building probably for that two or three-minute span.”
HEDBERG IN WAITING: While the Devils beat the Kings twice in October in their only regular-season meetings, goalie Martin Brodeur played only one period against Los Angeles.
Brodeur was hit in the shoulder by a slap shot by Matt Greene and had to leave the Oct. 13 game after the first period. Johan Hedberg played the final five periods in regulation, an overtime period and a shootout without allowing a goal.
The Devils posted a 2-1 shootout win in New Jersey and a 3-0 win in Los Angeles 12 days later.
Brodeur has started all 18 playoff games this year for the Devils, and Hedberg made one 36-minute relief appearance in Game 3 against Florida in the first round.
“I feel good,” Hedberg said. “I try to work as hard as I can in practice, stay sharp mentally, and then just stay ready for whatever might happen. As long as I am in the position I am, I am going to try to be as good a supporter of the team as I can and be a positive guy in the room.”
STERN SUTTER: The Los Angeles Kings have warmed up to coach Darryl Sutter, who took over the team in December after Terry Murray was let go.
Sutter is no stranger to an NHL bench, having played in the NHL and then serving as a head coach with Chicago, Calgary and San Jose. He has carved his niche and is known for his scowl and tough approach to things. But that has worked for the Kings, who turned a late surge for the playoffs into just the second appearance in the Stanley Cup finals for the franchise.
Sometimes it takes a few tries for Sutter’s messages to get through to the players he is speaking to, but eventually he makes sure they are delivered.
“Even on the bench he will mutter to himself, and you know he is talking about you,” forward Justin Williams said Tuesday. “So you kind of know that you need to pick it up, and if you don’t pick it up he is going to come a little bit closer and say something in your ear. We know what is expected of us. I like the way that he is honest.”
But it doesn’t stop there. If Sutter is truly annoyed, he finds a way to get under the skin of his players and really ensure they improve their play.
“Most of his ribs at us are more of the sarcastic type than the stern force, yelling at us,” Williams said. “He will just say, ‘Is this game too hard for you tonight’ or something like that, just to get you angry. He knows what makes hockey players angry.”
GIONTA-GIONTA: 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 Tuesday 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 felt that Brian Gionta was the safest player to bring up because he knew the system and could do anything.
The only problem is Brian Gionta is a former Devil who is now the captain of the Montreal Canadiens. He is Stephen’s 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 Gionta, Ryan Carter and 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 EMRICK: Mike Emrick, who retired as the Devils’ television play-by-play commentator after 21 seasons, will be doing the play by play of the Stanley Cup finals for NBC.
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 Tuesday at media day. “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 along any other show that I have been doing.”
NOTES: Devils D Peter Harrold played with the Kings for the previous 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 D Andy Greene seems to have the best beard on the team. The grizzly man on the Kings is Dustin Penner, at least according to Justin Williams, who added that Brown’s beard might be the worst because it makes him look “Hoboish.” … Penner also has the best taste in music on the Kings, according to forward Jarret Stoll. “He hangs out with a DJ buddy of his, and he’s pretty in tune with what’s going on.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.