Updated 

Stanley Cup Final: New York vs. Los Angeles can be as big as it gets


The last time New York and Los Angeles teams met in a big championship final, the Dodgers found themselves up against a pitcher who had undergone Tommy John surgery.

How long has it been? Well, here’s a clue: The lefty on the mound was Tommy John himself.

Thirty three years after the Dodgers won a World Series against John and the Yankees, L.A. and New York finally meet again. This time it’s on the ice, with the teams from the country’s two biggest cities squaring off in the Stanley Cup final.

It may not bring thoughts back of Willis Reed limping onto the court, willing his team to a win in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. Or Reggie Jackson hitting three home runs in one game in 1977 as the Yankees beat the Dodgers.

The Big Apple and Hollywood don’t have any championship history in hockey, but there’s some buzz on both coasts for the first New York-Los Angeles major sports final since 1981.

“The big markets, that adds another level to the excitement of the finals here,” the Rangers’ Dominic Moore said. “I know New York is excited.”

So is Tommy Lasorda, who managed the Dodgers to their last win over the Yankees and is friends with Kings executive Luc Robitaille.

“I’ll be rooting for them, no doubt,” Lasorda said. “I’m so impressed with what the Kings have accomplished through these playoffs. Even if they don’t beat the Rangers they’ve got to go down in history of hockey with one of the greatest teams ever the way they’ve performed.”

Why the New York-L.A. matchup hasn’t happened any sooner can only be chalked up to the vagaries of sports. Certainly when the Lakers and Knicks met three times in four years for the NBA title in the early 1970s, there were high expectations the rivals would square off again. And when the Dodgers finally beat the Yankees in the third World Series in five years between the teams, it seemed like they would trade championships for some time.

That World Series thrilled a lot of people in Los Angeles, which hadn’t won a championship since 1965 when Sandy Koufax was on the mound. But the Yankees beat the Dodgers back-to-back in 1977-78, including the iconic game where Jackson earned the nickname Mr. October by hitting three home runs at Yankee Stadium.

“We were suffering and the guy was making a fool out of us,” Lasorda said. “I was hoping and praying we would get another shot at him.”

Longtime broadcaster Vin Scully said the rivalry between the Dodgers and Yankees was more intense than any other sport because the teams had met so often in the World Series when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and there were still bitter feelings about the Dodgers leaving town. The Dodgers biggest World Series win was arguably in 1963, when they swept the Yankees in four games.

“The ultimate was not only beating the Yankees but sweeping them in four,” Scully said. “And to New York fans it was still the old Brooklyn Dodgers and there was a lot of bitterness toward them.”

The ultimate for Knicks fans was 1970. Without Reed in Game 7 the Knicks figured to have a tough time beating Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. But he suffered a torn thigh muscle in Game 5 and needed an injection just before game time to limp out on the court.

The sight of Reed in uniform sent the 19,500 fans into a frenzy. He scored just four points, but kept Chamberlain in check for a 113-99 win.

The Lakers would go on to beat the Knicks two years later, and lose to them again in 1973. Since then they haven’t met in a championship final.

There’s never been a Super Bowl between New York and L.A. teams and no possibility of one until Los Angeles gets an NFL team.

While the Rangers and Kings have never met in the Stanley Cup finals, teams from Southern California and the New York area have. New Jersey and the Anaheim Ducks played in 2003, and the Kings beat the Devils two years ago.

Still, New York against Los Angeles somehow seems different.

“I think it’s important for the league. This league has done everything for us, I want it to grow,” said Brad Richards of the Rangers. “These matchups are great for the game, and we understand that. It’s great for hockey.”

Despite the matchup of the two biggest cities in the country, executives at NBC had to be rooting for Chicago to advance instead of Los Angeles. Sunday’s Western Conference Game 7 was the most watched non-Stanley Cup Final ever, averaging more than 4.1 million viewers, but a lot more of those were Blackhawks fans than Kings fans.

While nearly 23 percent of all homes with televisions watched in the Chicago area, less than 5 percent of the homes in L.A. were tuned in.

“I would have rather played Chicago, because I think it would have been like old school versus old school,” said Rangers fan Matthew Geraghty, the head chef at Tir Na Nog, an Irish pub across from Madison Square Garden. “I’ve never been to L.A. to watch sports, but I wouldn’t consider it a hockey town.”

Associated Press sports writer Rick Freeman contributed from New York.

KINGS-RANGERS MATCHUP

SO FAR: New York beat Philadelphia in seven games, rallied from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate Pittsburgh and got past Montreal in six games. The Kings rallied from 0-3 to beat San Jose, had a 3-2 deficit before winning two straight against Anaheim and won Game 7 in overtime at Chicago to eliminate the defending champions.

SEASON SERIES: Tied 1-1. It has been nearly seven months since these teams played. Brad Richards scored twice and Henrik Lundqvist made 28 saves and defenseman Ryan McDonagh scored a short-handed goal in the third period to help Rangers win 3-1 at Los Angeles in October. Tyler Toffoli scored the only goal and Jonathan Quick’s previous backup, Ben Scrivens, shut out New York 1-0 in November on the road.

STORY LINE: The Kings are expected to hoist the Stanley Cup for the second time in three seasons in part because they’ve proven to be as resilient as any team in any sport. Los Angeles is the first team in league history to win three Game 7s on the road in one postseason, a run that it started by becoming just the fourth NHL team to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games. The Rangers turned a good regular season into their greatest stretch of success in the playoffs since winning the Cup in 1994, by rolling four lines and playing good defense in front of a great goaltender. New York might not be favored, but it can win any game or series with a trio such as Lundqvist, McDonagh and winger Martin St. Louis.

NEW YORK’S KEY PLAYER: McDonagh. The two-way blue-liner is playing the best hockey of his career, leading the Rangers with 10 assists this postseason and tying St. Louis and Derek Stepan for the team lead with 13 points. The pride of St. Paul, Minnesota, proved he belonged on the ice with the best hockey players in the world at the Olympics.

LOS ANGELES’ KEY PLAYER: Jeff Carter. He bounced around a bit getting traded in 2011 and 2012. Los Angeles is thankful he landed on its team. Carter has nine goals (trailing only Marian Gaborik’s 12 in the NHL this postseason) and 22 points (behind just Anze Kopitar’s 24) in 21 games. He did not always play up to his potential with the Flyers or for Columbus, but is producing a lot in the playoffs.

PREDICTION: Kings in 6.

The Associated Press