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Familiar faces dot Rangers-Kings Cup Final

by Tal Pinchevsky

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The New York Rangers won't be looking to rekindle old friendships when they play the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final. But many of the Rangers players will notice a familiar face on the Kings roster when they play Game 1 on Wednesday at Staples Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).

And for one former Rangers player, the Cup Final will be a vivid reminder of where he came from.

Kings forward Marian Gaborik was a crucial piece of the Rangers team that advanced to the 2012 Eastern Conference Final before losing in six games to the New Jersey Devils. In just two years, Gaborik has gone from being one of the Rangers' best teammates to one of their most dangerous adversaries.

"A great teammate, a great guy," forward Brad Richards said of Gaborik. "He's playing well. We're going to have to keep an eye on him. He's a very dangerous player, opportunistic. He can score at any time."

Richards is very familiar with Gaborik, who has a League-high 12 goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The two frequently played on the same line during New York's run to the conference final in 2012. They continued to play together in 2012-13 before Gaborik was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline.

Gaborik was sent to Los Angeles at the 2014 trade deadline, providing a fresh start to a difficult season in which he struggled with injuries. He's flourished since arriving in Los Angeles, bringing back memories of his best days in New York, which include two 40-goal seasons. When he wasn't scoring goals for New York, Gaborik was establishing strong bonds with his teammates.

Those bonds will be temporarily suspended during the Cup Final.

"He was a great guy; phenomenal," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "He was always working hard here with us and scored a lot of big goals. He has tremendous skill and is a great skater. He's going to be a big handful for us. He didn't waste time here at the rink. He was working on sticks or equipment or in the weight room. There was always something he was doing."

Rangers forward Brian Boyle is among the players who developed a kinship with Gaborik during his time in New York. But Boyle's familiarity with the Kings goes well beyond Gaborik.

Los Angeles selected Boyle with the 26th pick of the 2003 NHL Draft, and he played his first two NHL seasons with the Kings before being traded to the Rangers in 2009. Playing for the Kings and their American Hockey League affiliate in Manchester, Boyle was a teammate of a number of players who now make up the core of Los Angeles' roster, including forwards Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, defenseman Drew Doughty and goaltender Jonathan Quick.

"I learned a lot from them," Boyle said. "There are some good guys on that team who have gone on to do great things. That was a long time ago. I was stupid. I didn't know anything. I was just trying to make it."

In addition to their time together with the Kings, Boyle and Quick shared several other moments together on the ice. The two faced off regularly when Boyle was playing at Boston College and Quick starred at UMass-Amherst.

But Boyle mostly remembers his time in L.A. as the beginning of his maturation as a man and an athlete.

"I grew up a lot," he said. "I was never away from home [before then]. I went to prep school, then Boston College, and when I was in the minors [in Manchester] I was playing an hour north of where I grew up. To get away from home a little bit was an experience. To go through the challenges when I was away from home was an experience that I think ultimately has made me better. I'm 29 now. I was 22 when I signed with them. A lot of things are different."

Whether it's Boyle's early years in L.A. or Gaborik's successful time in New York, there will be plenty of time to reminisce when the offseason starts. Until then, there's some important business for the Rangers and Kings to attend to.

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