May the best Marian prevail …
The Blackhawks have veteran winger Marian Hossa of Slovakia, and the Kings counter with veteran winger Marian Gaborik of Slovakia.
Gaborik, 32, has 347 career NHL goals; Hossa, three years older, has 464.
The result so far: Chicago Marian 1, Los Angeles Marian 0.
Chicago defeated the Kings, 3-1, in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Sunday, and with Game 2 not until Wednesday night, there was plenty of time to develop multiple plot lines.
One was the battle of teams’ top lines, led by star centers Anze Kopitar of the Kings and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.
Hossa had two points, both assists, on the Toews line. Gaborik, playing on Kopitar’s line, did not have a point.
“He is, and always was, a pure sniper,” Hossa said Monday about Gaborik. “You give him a little time, he can release it really quick and can surprise you. He has an unbelievable shot. And his speed, when he gets going, you must know where he is; especially in the middle zone he can use his speed extremely well.
“In one second, he’s behind you and you won’t catch him, so you want to make sure you know where he is all the time.”
Hossa and Gaborik’s friendship goes beyond representing Slovakia at the international level. They were both at the Olympics in Vancouver in 2010 and while Hossa was in Sochi in February, Gaborik was unable to compete in Russia because of a broken collarbone.
They now live on the same street, and Gaborik grew up playing with Hossa’s younger brother, Marcel, a former NHL player who was with Dinamo Riga of the KHL this past season.
“We live in the same hometown and we’re very close to each other,” Gaborik said. “We talk often during the off-season and we’ve been in touch up to the start of this series and that’s pretty much it. No interactions now, no bets, whatever.”
Said Hossa: “When I was younger, I used to go watch their games when they play as young kids. Marian was always the one who was scoring goals. My brother was the passer. So I know him really when he was little kid.
"… Right now, [at this] point where we not going to talk for two weeks. We try to do our business on the ice. When everything is over, we go back to friendship.”
Hossa has two Stanley Cup rings, both with Chicago, and has been to four Cup Finals in the last six years, the other two with Detroit and Pittsburgh. Gaborik was in the Western Conference finals in 2003 with Minnesota, losing to the Ducks, and the Eastern Conference finals in 2012 with the New York Rangers, losing to the New Jersey Devils.
The Rangers traded him to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline in 2013, and the Blue Jackets sent Gaborik to the Kings in March, also at the trade deadline.
Acquiring Jeff Carter at the 2012 deadline from Columbus was the big marquee move for the Kings, helping spark their run to the Stanley Cup.
Gaborik, who has a league-leading nine goals in the playoffs, fit in quickly with the group, just like Carter did two years ago.
“I believe Marian’s skill set speaks for itself on the ice,” Kings forward Justin Williams said. “But fitting in with a hockey team isn’t just going out there and playing the game. To be part of a team, you want to be part of a team on the ice and off the ice. Marian has fit in quite easily … he’s really a nice guy”
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter is not about to tip his hand, especially during the playoffs, but it sounds as though defenseman Robyn Regehr is not close to returning. Regehr, who has a lower body injury, is on the trip with the Kings but has not resumed skating, Sutter said.
Sutter had hinted that defenseman Willie Mitchell might be ready later in the Chicago series, and just like that the veteran showed up in the lineup Sunday and was killing penalties, just like always. His ice time was just under 17 minutes.
“I thought he was solid,” Sutter said of Mitchell, who was out because of an injured leg muscle. “I think everybody thought that.”