Robyn Regehr fondly recalls being part of the last Los Angeles Kings-San Jose Sharks series -- fondly, perhaps, because he was on the right side of history.
The former standout defenseman for the Kings, who retired after last season, said we're in for a treat as the two California rivals hook up again two years after Los Angeles erased a 3-0 series deficit to stun San Jose.
"It's a great rivalry," Regehr said over the phone on Monday. "The fans don't like each other. The players don't like each other. It makes for some pretty entertaining hockey."
Regehr, who played in all seven games of that series before an injury early in the next round against the Anaheim Ducks ended his season, can still vividly recall how it all played out in April 2014.
"What I remember from that series is, first of all, how poorly we played and, on the flip side, how well San Jose played in the first two games," said Regehr, whose Kings were crushed 6-3 and 7-2, respectively, in the opening two games at San Jose. "Really, they just took it to us as a team. It wasn't really that close."
That's when Kings coach Darryl Sutter implored his players to play like the cohesive team they really were. "One thing that Darryl started preaching to us was that we just had to change our attitude," Regehr said.
The Kings lost Game 3 in overtime 4-3, but Regehr said that even that night they were still confident that they weren't out of it. "Even though we got down 3-0, we had started to turn things around, had a better attitude," he said. "We were able to make adjustments. I don't think there was ever a feeling that we couldn't [come back]. I don't think we worried about the outcome of the series.
"Darryl was really strong at [getting us] to just focus even more on the smaller things, the period-by-period and shift-by-shift stuff. That slowly built the outcome that Darryl wanted. And then once we got that first win, the challenge was to focus the pressure on them."
Los Angeles would outscore the Sharks 18-5 over the final four games to win out. "We were able to mount a comeback that was pretty special," Regehr said.
The Kings moved on to face the New York Rangers in the 2014 Cup finals. After the Kings jumped out to a 3-0 series lead of their own, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty tried to make the point that his team couldn't take its foot off the gas and give the Blueshirts life when he (inadvertently?) took a rather pointed swipe at the Sharks.
"Once we won that first game of the San Jose series, we kind of had a feeling we were going to come back and win that series," Doughty told the media during the 2014 Cup finals. "And you could see it in their eyes -- and their team and their captains and leaders -- that they were worried about us coming back. So we don't want to give [the Rangers] any life."
You'd better believe that the Sharks still remember that comment. Regehr wouldn't go as far as saying he remembers seeing fear in the Sharks' faces, but he does remember the Kings realizing that the pressure had shifted to their opponents. That's natural after you go up 3-0 and then the other team starts winning games.
"Body language is huge," Regehr said. "You can tell when you're starting to get to somebody. That's one of the things in the playoffs. You're in a matchup against a team but also in a matchup against a certain line or a certain guy. When you can see that you have an advantage over someone, that's a fun part of the game."
Regehr predicted another long, close series this time around.
"There's some very interesting things going on in that series," Regehr said. "First of all, you have Martin Jones, who was in L.A. and now with San Jose. He's a good goaltender, and he's going to be highly motivated. Those San Jose players are looking to exact a bit of revenge. And you have an L.A. team looking to make up for missing the playoffs last year. There's no love lost between both teams."
Regehr pointed to San Jose's always-dangerous power play -- third in the NHL this season -- as a factor.
"One of the keys will be special teams," he said. "San Jose has always heavily relied on special teams, and that will be very important for both teams."
As will each team's respective stars.
"It comes down to the big guys -- Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick and Doughty for L.A., and Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Brent Burns for San Jose. You need your big guys playing well or else you're not going to go anywhere."
When pressed to make a pick for the series, well, Regehr wasn't about to go against his pals.
"I've got to stick with L.A," he said with a chuckle. "But I think it's going to be another good series. Let's say L.A. in seven."