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Lucic looking forward to Kings-Sharks showdown

Los Angeles wing says 'never my nature to shy away' from rivalries

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Director of Editorial

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Kings forward Milan Lucic has never been involved in a Stanley Cup Playoff series with the San Jose Sharks, but he will most likely play a central role in the hostilities this time.

That is what Lucic does best: He revels in the atmosphere of angst created by playing the same rival every second night for up to two weeks.

"Just as an athlete, and a competitor, you kind of thrive off those things and it's easy to look forward to a game when there's a little bit extra involved," Lucic said Wednesday at after the Kings' final practice before Game 1 of their Western Conference First Round series at Staples Center on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, CSN-CA, FS-W, CBC, TVA Sports). "It's never my nature to shy away when rivalries happen."

The rivalry between the Kings and Sharks may be underappreciated in more traditional hockey hotbeds, but undervalue it at your own risk.

Before each team missed the playoffs last year, the Kings and Sharks met in the postseason three of the previous four seasons. The Kings won Game 7 in 2013. Los Angeles made a historic comeback by erasing a 3-0 lead and winning the best-of-7 series in 2014. San Jose won in six games in 2011.

It is a 20-game body of work that has produced some of the most compelling playoff hockey of the past five seasons.

Video: ANA@LAK: Lucic deposits backhand for 20th goal

"It's the Battle of California, and with how many times they've faced each other recently in the playoffs, it adds into a lot of hatred between the teams, and I think it's going to make for an emotional series," Lucic said.

Lucic is not one to shy away from emotion; it is the fuel that drives his punishing game.

The list of places where he is Public Enemy No. 1 is among the longest in the NHL, mainly because of his take-no-prisoners attitude and the cantankerous behavior he is likely to exhibit.

He made no friends in his hometown of Vancouver when the Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks to win the Stanley Cup in 2011. In 2013-14, he made headlines for the feud he had with forward Dale Weise of the Montreal Canadiens during a second-round series that ended with Montreal winning Games 6 and 7.

The image of Lucic seething as he skated off the ice at TD Garden is 23 months old, but it remains fresh in his mind and the minds of others.

He does not deny the disappointment of that night, of the embarrassment he felt as a competitor in not getting the job done. It is a failure that remained with him during a final season without the playoffs in Boston and followed him to the West Coast after his departure from the only NHL city he ever called home.

Video: LAK@CHI: Lucic picks the corner for an early 2-0 lead

"I talked about it a lot before camp and during the offseason, how much missing the playoffs kind of motivates you heading into the season to get back there," he said. "Not even having the chance to play for a Stanley Cup is almost as bad as being up 3-0 and losing the series."

And, no, the 3-0 line was not a dig at the Sharks, at least not completely.

Lucic was not a part of that Kings team, but he knows exactly how the Sharks feel as they prepare for the rematch.

Lucic lived through the nightmare of his own 3-0 series meltdown. In 2010, his Bruins were up three games on the Philadelphia Flyers but lost the series.

The next season, the rematch results were far different.

"We didn't just beat them, we smoked them," Lucic said. "We scored 20 goals in four games in a sweep. And it felt really, really good."

Video: WSH@LAK: Carter feeds Lucic, Kings pad lead in 1st

He said he might share with the Kings the story of how the 2011 Bruins embraced the opportunity to get payback and how they reveled in the accomplishment when it came to fruition. If so, it will serve as a not-so-gentle reminder that nothing is won yet.

Whether he tells that particular story or not doesn't really matter. Lucic knows words are cheap this time of year.

It is, perhaps, the ultimate lesson learned through the experience of 96 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

"I can sit here and talk about it all I want, but it's what I do on the ice that's going to matter the most," Lucic said.

On Thursday, he finally gets the opportunity to do his talking on the ice again. Expect some very loud statements to follow.

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