RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The Stanley Cup finals start tonight, between the New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings have only made it to the finals once before in their 45-year history. And so here in a town that lives for the Lakers and Dodgers, hockey fans are relishing their moment. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.
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CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The sun is out and so are the crowds at one of L.A.'s swankier outdoor malls, The Grove. It's easier to spot a movie star here than a Kings jersey or cap, even though the Stanley Cup finals are about to begin.
CHANG HER: I'm a fan of the Lakers.
KAHN: What about the Kings? They're in the Stanley Cup.
HER: I don't like the Kings. It's all about the Lakers.
KAHN: I stopped Chang Her just as he was paying for his new Laker's cap at a small sports memorabilia cart parked on one of the Grove's faux streets. He actually thought I was talking about the basketball team, the Sacramento Kings.
No, the Kings are hockey.
KAHN: The Kings are hockey.
HER: Oh, I don't know then.
KAHN: Dodger fan Erik Blackwell says he's excited about the Kings. So much so he tries to get his four-year-old son to take off his Dodger Blue cap and try on one for the Kings. It's a tough sell.
ERIK BLACKWELL: I would love him to start really get into it, we're - but I'm not. I don't know much about it.
KAHN: Despite an impressive, some say shocking, playoff run, star left wing Dustin Penner says the Kings get little respect from people inside and especially outside of L.A.
DUSTIN PENNER: All they hear about is Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Angels, Sacramento Kings, Giants, Chargers, you know.
KAHN: Penner was talking to a group of local reporters, all sympathetically nodding. He says he wants to bring the cup home for loyal fans who are finally getting the respect they deserve. Veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell says he can relate to waiting patiently. He's never won a Stanley Cup.
WILLIE MITCHELL: So, you know, I've played hockey since I was, you know, four years old, you know, so it's been a long time waiting for this. It would be the ultimate for me.
KAHN: So do the Kings really have a chance to win it after 45 long years? Who better for us to ask than NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca?
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: You know, before the playoffs began, both of these teams were about 20-1 long shots. And it's because the Kings barely eked into the playoffs. They were the eight seed in the West. And the Devils were the sixth seed in the East. The Devils haven't actually been favored to win any of their playoff series.
But the great thing they have going for them, which they've had going for them over the last 15 years, is Martin Brodeur. Marty Brodeur is just about the greatest active goalie in hockey.
The Kings have a great goalie of their own in Quick. Also, they're really good at killing the power play. And the Kings don't have a good power play. Add that all up, it should be a really good series.
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KAHN: At a recent King's practice skate, dozens of fans watched the team warm-up for free. There were retired aerospace engineers, a kids hockey team and a few die-hard fans, including Rabbi Hershel Remer. Remer, a Los Angeles native says he feels like he did back in 1993, the only other time the Kings made it to the finals.
HERSHEL REMER: And I went to the game because I figured it was a once in a lifetime, knowing the Kings. And I am shocked that they're back.
KAHN: It's twice in a lifetime.
REMER: It's twice in a lifetime.
KAHN: Anita Madjar feels the same way. She says she's afraid to get too excited in case, as she puts it, the Kings blow it again. But she is excited the Kings are finally outshining those other L.A. sports teams.
ANITA MADJAR: I hate the Lakers. I'm not a Laker fan. I hate them.
KAHN: The Kings play the Devils tonight in New Jersey. They'll be back home for game three, where loyal fans get to show that L.A. is a hockey town.
Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles.
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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
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