LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Recent acquisition Marian Gaborik has played a big role in helping the Los Angeles Kings reach the Stanley Cup Finals and his team mate, center Anze Kopitar, is delighted by the chemistry the duo already share.
Slovak right wing Gaborik, picked up by the Kings from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline three months ago, has scored a team-high 12 goals for Los Angeles during the playoffs while Kopitar heads the points standings with 24.
“It seems like it was pretty quick,” Slovenian Kopitar, 26, told reporters at Staples Center on Tuesday about how swiftly he and three-time All-Star Gaborik had developed an understanding on the ice for the Kings.
”But I played against Marion quite a bit in my seven years here and it’s really not hard to figure out what his strengths are and what kind of damage he can do. So you take on that and just get ready as quick as you can.
“We both like to play a give-and-go game and with his speed it definitely drafts some of the defensemen off a little bit which gives me a few extra feet on the ice to operate with, and I will always take that.”
With Kopitar and Gaborik leading the way on offense for the Kings, the Los Angeles team will launch their bid for a second Stanley Cup title in three years when they face the New York Rangers on Wednesday in Game One of a best-of-seven series.
The Kings, who were the league’s top defensive team during the regular season, will start out as favorites against the Rangers but Kopitar knows full well the danger of being complacent with hockey’s Holy Grail on the line.
The twice All-Star, who became the first Slovenian to play in the NHL in 2006, expects New York to focus on speed in offense while he has huge respect for their ace goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the league’s top netminder in 2012.
”Their defense corps is very good and they have a lot of depth in their lineup,“ Kopitar said of the Rangers, who last hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1994. ”It’s going to be challenging.
”A lot of it is going to be about speed. We are trying not to play that way but there’s going to be happening some stuff on the rush too and we just have to adapt and be ready for it.
“I don’t think our game plan is going to change a whole lot since the last few (playoff) series, really. We are going to have worry about ourselves, about how we play and go about our business.”
Kopitar felt his team had to maintain unwavering focus against Lundqvist, who is nicknamed ‘King Henrik’ and won a gold medal for Sweden at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin followed by a silver medal at this year’s Games in Sochi.
”He’s a really great goalie but our mindset can’t change,“ said Kopitar. ”We have faced some really good goalies, too, and it’s the same.
“It’s boring stuff. You’ve got to go the net, you’ve got to make it hard on him, try to shoot the puck as much as you can and get as many goals as you can.”
One thing in the Kings’ favor as they prepare to take on the Rangers is that several of their players can draw upon experiences learned during their astonishing run to the Stanley Cup in 2012.
”You just channel the excitement,“ said Kopitar. ”A couple of years ago, I don’t think I got too much sleep a couple of nights before the first game even, so now it’s a little bit more relaxed.
“You’ve been there, you know how it is. It’s just a little bit easier to get prepared but at the same time you have to get ready for it and you’ve got to get your head in the right place.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Ian Ransom