Rangers, Kings go after one prize

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LOS ANGELES -- This is where the roads converge.

Two teams from opposite sides of the continent, carrying different expectations and having to ford different streams of adversity, will meet in the Stanley Cup finals.

But before that, the NHL's annual media day provided a chance to reflect, to assess the journeys, to take in the personalities of the players who have been part of the journey the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers have made to get four wins away from immortality.

The series will soon begin to develop its personality, the momentum of Game 1 pushing the teams forward into Game 2 and so on and so on.

But before the most important two weeks of the NHL season begin, Tuesday provided a unique opportunity to give a nod to the bricks and mortar from which these teams are constructed and from which a champion will emerge.

It gave us a chance to catch up with guys like Derek Stepan, who still can't quite open his mouth fully after suffering a broken jaw courtesy of former teammate Brandon Prust in the Eastern Conference finals.

"No, I can't chew. I won't be able to chew until six weeks," Stepan told a small group of reporters.

"No, it's not wired shut. I can't open it all the way but I'm able to move it a little bit. We were pretty fortunate it's just a single break; it wasn't a bunch of breaks which normally happens."

A few meters away was Dominic Moore, who in many ways illustrates the strong emotional bond that has grown around this team.

He has enjoyed success, going to the conference finals three times in his past four seasons with Montreal, Tampa and the Rangers, but he also took a season away from hockey after the death of his wife, Katie, from liver cancer.

"I've been in three conference finals in my last four seasons, the league's last five seasons I guess," he said Tuesday.

"To play in the finals, this first opportunity is incredibly special. I'm excited about it. It's one of those things you've dreamt about being able to play for a Stanley Cup from when you were 3 years old. To be here is incredible and I feel very proud to be a part of our team that's got to this point."

While the Kings are back to the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in three years and have been to the final four in three straight years, the Rangers are a team separated from that kind of success by a generation of players and fans, as their last Cup appearance came in 1994, when they defeated Vancouver in a classic seven-game tilt.

Even the players on the Rangers who have experienced the heft of lifting the Stanley Cup -- Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis -- understand the fleeting nature of these moments.

"You go along in your career and you realize how hard it is to get there," St. Louis said. "I was fortunate to win one before, but since then, I've realized how hard it is to get there. I appreciate it."

St. Louis, who won a Cup with Richards in Tampa in 2004, has become a central figure in the Rangers' run to the finals. It's not just that he was acquired by the Rangers at the trade deadline in exchange for former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, but the sudden death of his mother during the second round of the playoffs became a rallying cry for the entire Rangers team.

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