The Kings were a preseason favorite to reach the Cup final because of high-end talent such as Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. But they were 13-12-4 and in 12th place in the Western Conference when general manager Dean Lombardi made the decision to replace Terry Murray with Darryl Sutter as the permanent head coach on Dec. 20.
The Kings won 25-of-49 games in the regular season under Sutter. They earned 61 of the team’s 95 points under Sutter to reach the playoffs. Los Angeles has won 13-of-15 games in the playoffs and lead the Devils, 1-0, heading into Saturday night’s Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final. His top players have been key to the team’s success.
So what has Sutter learned about the Quicks, Doughtys, Kopitars and Browns?
Not a thing.
“I think the impression would be the same as anybody who follows the game,” Sutter said. “They’re skilled — really character guys who work hard, so it really hasn’t changed much. I knew that going in with the kids [and] it’s pretty much the same.”
Praise for the enemy
The Devils-Rangers rivalry was marred by an outbreak of civility yesterday.
When asked about Doughty during his media availability, Devils head coach Pete DeBoer grew effusive while praising the Rangers’ pair of defensemen Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh.
“As shutdown defensemen, I would put those two in the class of Doughty and [Rob Scuderi], yes. Doughty, in an individual class, is in a class by himself. I don't think there’s any doubt about that,” DeBoer said. “As a shutdown pair, those two — ask around the league in the Eastern Conference — [Girardi and McDonagh] are as tough a shut-down pair as there are on this side [of the league].”
DeBoer referenced Girardi and McDonagh in response to a question about moving Ilya Kovalchuk away from Doughty and Scuderi.
“We played Girardi and McDonagh against the Rangers, same thing. If they’re going to match those guys up in order to get him away [from them], we’re going to have to get away from a four-line game which has been our strength,” DeBoer said. “If they’re matching up against Kovalchuk, then they’re not matching up against [Zach] Parise or other guys. The matchup game isn’t something that I’m interested in or worried about. For me, it isn’t relevant.
“I think our identity is a four-line team. Kovy is a piece of that, but he’s not the team. I don’t think that’s how we’re built. I don’t think that’s why we’ve had success,” DeBoer said. “You know, we’re capable of surviving on nights when he doesn’t score or isn’t at the top of his game, just like we’re capable of surviving nights that [Patrik Elias] or Parise or other guys aren’t. I think that’s the strength of our team.”
Gaborik goes under the knife
John Tortorella was insistent throughout the Rangers’ playoff run that his team was not tired.
He never said they weren’t hurt.
The organization announced Friday that right wing Marian Gaborik will undergo surgery to mend a torn labrum. The surgery is scheduled for Wednesday at the NYU Langone Medical Center’s Hospital for Joint Diseases.
Gaborik told the Slovakian newspaper SME that he needed the surgery and Yahoo! Sports translated the interview. Gaborik estimated that he would need five to six months to recuperate. He had evaded questions on the Rangers’ breakup day regarding the possibility of needing off-season surgery.
Gaborik played in all 82 games last season for the first time in his career. He finished with 41 goals and 76 points. It marked the second time in his three years with the Rangers, and the third time in his 10-year NHL career that he broke the 40-goal barrier. Gaborik recorded five goals and six assists in the 20 playoff games, but only scored one goal in the six game series loss to the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals.
Neither the Devils nor Kings were pleased with the condition of the Prudential Center ice in Game 1. Don’t expect it to improve before Saturday night due to the rising temperatures and hosting Radiohead concerts Thursday and Friday.
“[The] ice is less than ... it’s below average,” Sutter said. “Less than below average.”
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.