Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault remembers vividly the Canucks’ Stanley Cup Final loss to the Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
“When I lost Game 7 there was a lot of crying from my part,” the former Canucks coach told reporters Monday, after his team’s last practice before flying to Los Angeles. “My girls were there, I had some friends there, so it was real emotional, real hard.”
Vigneault hopes he and his team will not experience those raw emotions after the Stanley Cup Final, which begins Wednesday night at the Staples Center against the Western Conference champion Kings.
This series marks the third time the two franchises have met in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Rangers won the two prior meetings, in the 1979 and 1981 preliminary rounds.
The Kings entered the playoffs as the league’s best puck possession team and rank sixth best in the playoffs according to the analytics site extraskater.com. The Rangers rank sixth and eighth, respectively.
“L.A. is defensively sound, great goaltending. They play four lines,” Vigneault said. “They’ve been there before and they’ve won. They went from the lowest-scoring team to make it into the playoffs to the highest-scoring team right now.
“They have definitely got size and they added speed and scoring when they added [Marian] Gaborik. They are the real thing and they are the real deal so it’s a challenge.”
Gaborik, the former Ranger, has inserted himself into the Conn Smythe discussion, as he leads all scorers in the playoffs with 12 goals in 21 games. His 19 points is fourth most in the playoffs.
The Rangers traded Gaborik to Columbus at the trade deadline last year for Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore, a deal then coach-John Tortorella welcomed as it filled out the roster.
The Gaborik-Columbus union was ill-fitting, and it ended at this year’s trade deadline when the Blue Jackets dealt him to the Kings for Matt Frattin. Riding shotgun on Anze Kopitar’s line has suited both Gaborik and the Kings well.
“He has been playing well the whole playoffs,” Lundqvist said. “He’s played a huge part for them. That’s why they’re in there. He is doing his thing, so he is one of the guys we have to make sure we keep our focus on, and make sure we know when he’s in the ice.
“He’s a sniper, he’s fast, and he finds the net pretty good. They have a bunch of guys that like to get open ice and get going. It is just one of many challenges facing that team.”
But the Rangers have not advanced to this point just to play patsy. Not when the tangible reward for a lifetime’s work is just four wins away.
“Any team you play at this time of year is a good hockey team, especially a team that has kind of been around the playoffs and the Stanley Cup Finals a couple of times in the last few years,” Derek Stepan said. “This is a very good hockey club. We have a tough challenge in front of us.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.