The Kings and the Ducks exited the playoffs in the first round this spring, but several of their recent alumni have played key roles in getting the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks to the Stanley Cup final, which starts Monday at Consol Energy Center.
The Kings' main contribution to the proceedings is Sharks goaltender Martin Jones, whose steady, calm performances have helped calm a team whose playoff jitters have been rather noticeable in the past. Pittsburgh backup Jeff Zatkoff, Jones' teammate at minor-league Manchester, also has ties to the Kings.
The Penguins' success has been fueled by three former Ducks: defenseman Ben Lovejoy, and forwards Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino. Lovejoy has been paired with Olli Maatta, while Bonino has been centering for Hagelin and Phil Kessel. Two other Penguins have distant ties to the Ducks: Center Matt Cullen was drafted by the Ducks in 1996 and played for them from the 1997-98 season and into the 2002-03 season, and left wing Chris Kunitz played for the Ducks' 2007 Cup championship team but was traded to Pittsburgh in time to earn another Cup title in 2009.
Bonino didn't skate Sunday, but Coach Mike Sullivan said he will be fine for Monday's opener. Defenseman Kris Letang also missed the team's practice.
The Ducks acquired Hagelin from the New York Rangers last June and signed him to a four-year contract but he never settled in comfortably. He had only four goals and 12 points in 43 games before they traded him to Pittsburgh for left wing David Perron and defenseman Adam Clendening.
"It's been a crazy year for me, a crazy season. I didn't have the start I wanted," Hagelin said. "I thought I was going to be in Anaheim for a while. I signed a four-year deal there, but I understand the business of hockey. Stuff like that happens.
"I was fortunate enough to come to a team with so many skilled and talented players that started rolling at that time. I think I came in at the perfect moment, when we were turning around at the time. It's been a fun ride so far and I know the best is yet to come."
He said he felt he was just hitting stride in Anaheim when the trade was made. "I started fitting in more and more. I started playing the way I can and the way I wanted," he said. "Sometimes it's like that. I've had other seasons where I haven't played the way I wanted until Christmas and then I found my game. When I got traded here I had the confidence in my ability and I didn't have to worry at all when I got here. I just went out and played. And I get to play with some really great players, and that's always helpful. You get that offensive confidence."
The Ducks acquired Lovejoy from the Penguins in February of 2013 but sent him back to Pittsburgh at the 2015 trade deadline in exchange for Simon Despres, who played well but was hampered by injuries this season.
"This place has been awesome for me. I've been so lucky to play in two spots that felt like home," Lovejoy said. "And this season we had a lot of learning to do. It was a tough start. We had to come a long way. We feel it has made us a better team, and we've really been able to build on that."
When the Penguins came West in December, it was difficult to imagine they'd have this kind of playoff success. Soon after the team returned to Pittsburgh, General Manager Jim Rutherford fired coach Mike Johnston and replaced him with Mike Sullivan.
"We were struggling. We had to learn how we needed to play to be a good hockey team and it was not easy," Lovejoy said. "It was very difficult to go through. When Mike Sullivan came in the players were at a point where we knew what we were doing wasn't good enough. It wasn't right. We needed to buy into something and I think when Mike came in we knew our way wasn't working and we had to believe in what Mike was selling us and I think there was an immediate buy-in. Then, things didn't come easily but we started playing a brand of hockey that is more like we're playing now.
"What we were doing wasn't working. We were better than our record showed than quite frankly the games we were playing. We felt we could do more but weren't doing it. We were all at a point where we were going to do what we were told and we were going to try and do it together and it has worked."
Lovejoy said he was surprised to see the ducks eliminated so early but stopped short of disclosing his feelings about it. "I loved my time in Anaheim. That team, that organization," he said. "[General Manager] Bob Murray, [now former coach] Bruce Boudreau gave me sort of my first real chance to be a real player and that place will always hold a soft spot in my heart."