As homecomings go, it doesn't get much better than the one Los Angeles Kings forward Marian Gaborik will enjoy in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night at Madison Square Garden. It's his first game at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue since the Rangers traded him to Columbus on April 3, 2013.
Gaborik is not quite yet the conquering hero for the Kings, who acquired him from the Blue Jackets on March 5, but with a playoffs-leading 13 goals and a 2-0 lead over the Rangers, he's close. The low-key Slovak, who missed much of the season with knee and collarbone injuries, admitted his heart just might beat a little faster for this one.
"That gives you a little extra jump," Gaborik said Sunday after the Kings arrived at their midtown hotel. "It's my first time coming back to the Garden after I got traded. I'm going to see the Garden after all the renovations for the first time. They have great fans, and they are supporting them. We're going to come out with heart."
He downplayed any sense of personal vindication after serving as former coach John Tortorella's whipping boy before being shipped off after nearly four seasons and 114 regular-season goals in 255 games.
"I'm grateful to be in my first Final in as many years as I was in the league," Gaborik said. "To play the Rangers makes it a little more special. They're a good team, and obviously, the coaching change from before seems to have helped. Coming to the Garden will be special."
Teammate Justin Williams smiled when asked if Gaborik might get a tad emotional. "He's got a ho-hum attitude," Williams deadpanned. "He's going to come play the team that traded him away. Right? He's going to be gung-ho and excited like the rest of us are."
The Kings arrived knowing the Rangers now are under pressure to hold serve on home ice. But as Kings coach Darryl Sutter noted, the Garden always has been a place that stirs passions for visitors, too.
"The best part of playing the Rangers is you get to play in Madison Square Garden," Sutter said. "It's the best of the old-time buildings.
"I've been coming to Madison Square Garden for 30-some years. I know it's been refurbished, but the fans are still the same, and they love their team and hate the other team. That's what you like. You like going into buildings that are like that. It's full, and they're loud and say they hate you. That's good."
As loud as the Garden is sure to be at the outset, if the Kings score first, it might quiet the home crowd and ratchet up the Rangers' tension level.
"We're going to try to do to them what they did to us," Williams said, referring to how the Rangers jumped to 2-0 leads in both games at Staples Center. "Maybe jump on them early. The Garden is one of my favorite places to play. I know a lot of the guys feel the same way. It's fun, loud and exciting."
As a former Ranger, Gaborik agreed that visiting teams tend to lift their game on the big stage. "I think so," he said. "I don't think I've met or talked to any player that didn't like the Garden. Definitely, the building has a lot of history, and everybody that plays there has that extra jump.
"Just to look around at the building itself, there's some sort of energy that you want to be in there and just play. Our whole team will have that energy, and we will come out strong."