LOS ANGELES - "It's a little weird, obviously,'' Marian Gaborik said Tuesday night, confirming that he feels the same way about his situation as do many Rangers fans.
But this is the Stanley Cup Final, so the Kings' recently imported, blazing-hot goal-producer intends to mostly ignore the fact he is facing his former team and many former teammates and focus on the larger goal at hand.
So even when Game 3 comes Monday and he returns to Madison Square Garden, which he acknowledged would be a strange feeling, "as soon as I hit the ice, it's going to be all business.''
Gaborik, you may remember, spent nearly four full seasons with the Rangers from 2009-13 and twice scored more than 40 goals. He also scored three goals in the 2012 All-Star Game -- two against teammate Henrik Lundqvist.
But 35 games into the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and with only nine goals to his credit, coach John Tortorella seemed to sour once and for all on his perceived less-than-all-around contributions. The Rangers dealt him to Columbus.
The trade was "kind of out of nowhere,'' he said. After a lackluster 2013-14 that included a broken collarbone while playing for the Blue Jackets, he was traded again, on March 5, to the Kings.
He played the final 19 regular-season games for L.A. and since the playoffs began has a league-high 12 goals in 21 games, including one with 7:17 left in regulation time that tied Game 7 against the Blackhawks Sunday.
"It's been great since I got traded,'' he said, two days later. "It's been a fun ride . . . I have been fortunate to have some touch with the puck and have goals go in. I just try to go to the net and get in those dirty areas.''
The plot twist came in the opponent he will face. Gaborik insisted the matchup is "not personal at all'' for him, and that he was not rooting for or against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals.
Might he have felt differently if Tortorella still were coaching the Rangers? "It doesn't matter,'' he said curtly.
Mostly, Gaborik had only good things to say about his former New York home, saying, "I had a lot of good times.''
GM Glen Sather, the man who dealt him, said, "I'm happy for Marian. He's a terrific guy. It's like every trade. It was an opportunity to get better.''
Several of Gaborik's former teammates said they are not the least bit surprised by his success this spring.
"When he gets hot, he is tough to stop,'' defenseman Marc Staal said. "He scores a lot of goals and everyone thinks a lot are pretty goals but a lot of them he's just around the net. He's around the crease and gets in those areas where it is tough to score.''
The Kings' Mike Richards said Gaborik "just gave everybody a jolt of confidence in our offensive game,'' but GM Dean Lombardi said he made the trade only after becoming convinced Gaborik would make the kind of two-way commitment the franchise demands.
"The thing that jumped out at me was the way the players embraced him,'' Lombardi said. "They said, 'You're not a rental. You're not a mercenary. We're going to get you in this family, this circle, in a hurry.' ''
That turned out to be an excellent idea, as 12 goals in three series victories attest.