Half Baked: Things Get Hostile Between Our Kings Fan and a Borderline-Morose Rangers Fan

With Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final being played tonight at Madison Square Garden, we asked two fans to channel their nerves into something constructive: a conversation about their hopes, fears, dreams, and transcontinental travel issues. Here, Grantland’s resident New York Rangers enthusiast Katie Baker chats with Los Angeles Kings season-ticket holder and blogger The Royal Half. Jonathan Quick continues to frighten them both.

Katie Bakes: Oh hey there, you lucky bastard. It’s never fun when one’s favorite team manages to turn a two-goal lead in a Stanley Cup final game from gold into straw, but it’s an even more brutal ride when it happens twice — more than twice, actually — in the first two games.

Since we last chatted, the Los Angeles Kings have spent zero-point-zero seconds holding a lead against the Rangers, and yet … and yet and yet and yet. With come-from-behind overtime wins in each of their first two home games, the Kings now fly to New York with a 2-0 series advantage on the Rangers. Unlike their opponent, it’s pretty likely they’ll be able to hang on to it.

The Royal Half: Speaking of flying to New York …

Katie Bakes: Don’t even start with me. I just finally finished a fantastic voyage in which my flight was delayed 10 hours while Delta — official travel partner of the L.A. Kings! Official sponsor of whatever the hell this affront to three great athletes’ legacies is! — “borrowed a part from another airline.” (Unfortunately, that rental didn’t work out as well as Marian Gaborik has.)

The travel snafu, which also affected the likes of Dave Maloney and Marty Biron, was a fitting continuation to a long Saturday night filled with false hope, disappointment, and resignation. As they had in Game 1, the Rangers went up 2-0 early on L.A., and this time they responded to the Kings’ impending comeback with more goals.

The prettiest of these was one scored by Martin St. Louis on a lovely setup from Derek Stepan to give New York a 3-1 advantage midway through the second. After Willie Mitchell’s slap shot beat a screened Henrik Lundqvist a few minutes later, the Rangers responded in 11 seconds to go up 4-2. Not this time, they seemed to be saying. They wouldn’t be saying it for long.

We’ll get to Dwight King and Marian Gaborik’s goals in a minute, but I first want to point something out. You told me something very disturbing going into Game 2. You told me you wanted your alleged favorite team, the Los Angeles Kings, to lose. What kind of monster are you? Explain yourself, please.

The Royal Half: Fine … let’s get this out on the table. Yes, I’m actively rooting for at least one L.A. Kings loss in the next two games. And it’s for the most selfish, most idiotic reason ever: I can’t make it to New York City for Game 4. Not all of us are professional bloggers [FaceTimes Katie Baker and then judgingly stares at her], so sometimes real life gets in the way. I can totally watch Game 4 on TV, I just can’t fly to NYC for the actual game.

I haven’t asked for much in my 25-plus years of being a Los Angeles Kings fan, but I just need them to lose one of these next two (preferably Game 3 so that I have peace of mind), and then I can enjoy a Stanley Cup victory on home ice. Again.

Katie Bakes: This … might be the most messed-up thing I have ever read.

The Royal Half: So pretty much my biggest fear is that the Rangers will score two quick goals in the first period of both Games 3 and 4, which we all know by now is the kiss of death.

Katie Bakes: I found documentary footage of the Rangers handling a two-goal lead. The Kings, meanwhile, remind me of Tiger Woods on Sundays way back in the ol’ innocent days. You’d watch the last round of a major and genuinely feel bad for whatever poor guy was holding the lead, because you knew you were about to watch him melt down out of the sheer anticipation of Tiger catching up.

A crucial part of the Kings’ clawback on Saturday came two minutes into the third period, when a tangle of bodies in the crease (or what Doc Emrick would call A MASS OF HUMANITY!) gave way to a goal being scored. The bodies belonged to Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, Kings forward Dwight King, and Henrik Lundqvist — who was livid after the play, yelling that he’d been tied down by King and couldn’t move.

McDonagh, who was sandwiching King, is not innocent here. Still, I’ve seen goalie interference called for much less. And I don’t really understand why a play like that isn’t reviewable, particularly when it leads to a goal and stops the clock. Did you think the third goal should have counted?

The Royal Half: Regardless of whether it was a penalty, Lundqvist should feel lucky that Dwight King didn’t just bite into his face Hannibal Lecter–style because he wanted to destroy something beautiful (I think I’m mixing my movie metaphors there).

No, that should not have been a goal. And I have no idea why that play isn’t reviewable. The NHL has tried everything short of putting tiny robots in net over the past 15 years in an effort to increase scoring. We should be living in a world where each goal is reviewed to make sure it counts. And I’m not just saying that because the L.A. Kings had a goal scored against them during the season that bounced off the protective netting.

Katie Bakes: At least it led to two wonderfully pithy press conference remarks. Alain Vigneault, on whether it should have been a goal: “Ask the NHL.” Darryl Sutter, told that Lundqvist complained he was pinned: “I’ll take his word for it.” Incidentally, who knew that Darryl Sutter was such an MSG fan?! I think he’s said more words about the building than about any other topic, such as hockey.

The Royal Half: I’m pretty sure Darryl Sutter is actually talking about the ingredient that makes food taste so good. But let’s talk about what really sets these two teams apart as they head into playing in the Big Apple: celebrity fans.

Saturday night at Staples Center you had Britney Spears, Jimmy Kimmel, Chris Pine, Will Arnett, Gene Simmons, Colin Hanks, Retta, the stoner illustrator with a beard in Mad Men, the young girl who killed people in Kick-Ass, and two stars of MTV’s Teen Wolf. Plus Dermot Mulroney and his son cheering for the Rangers.

Katie Bakes: As an employee of noted Sports ‘N’ Entertainment web log Grantland, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I had to Google “Chris Pine.” Also, Gene Simmons, who was at the game, thought it went into four overtimes.

The Royal Half: Even when he’s there, he’s not really there. But don’t change the subject. How is Madison Square Garden even going to contend with that kind of firepower?!?

Katie Bakes: It’s a common misconception that Madison Square Garden has The World’s Most Famous celebrity row. Courtside bigwigs at Knicks games include … Matthew Modine. Maybe we’ll get an Olsen twin or an Anthony Weiner appearance — though now that he’s penning hockey columns for Business Insider the way Eliot Spitzer used to write for Slate, it’s possible he’s got press credentials.

But this isn’t even a contest, because L.A. had Britney. Britney! IT WAS BRITNEY, BITCH. She looked so glossy and shiny! She looked so great. The Kings needed stars like her to pick up the slack since Anze Kopitar hasn’t had a goal in nine games and Jonathan Quick’s save percentage is turning into hockey’s version of the Mendoza line.

The Royal Half: Yes, everyone loves to talk about how awful Quick’s numbers have been this postseason. But right now, Henrik isn’t any better. If the Rangers go down in Game 3, does he get downgraded to a duke — or, even worse, a VISCOUNT?

Katie Bakes For landed gentry, he sure didn’t land … gently.

I’m so sorry. I’m still really loopy from the flight. Here, distract yourself with this important photo of Henke as a young prince.

The Royal Half: OMG, he looks like he should be cast in one of those teen movies where they just take the glasses off the nerdy girl and all of a sudden she is the most popular kid in high school.

Katie Bakes: I previously believed that my favorite Lundqvist fact was that he once knitted a pillow in the shape of a goalie, but now I just want to know why I only recently learned that his actual first name is “Bjorn.” Why is this not more widely publicized?! Wake up, sheeple!! This is a cover-up that goes all the way to the top!! It’s on par with the conspiracy to excise the second half of Mats Zuccarello-Aasen’s last name.

The Royal Half: Despite his first name being synonymous with something you carry your baby around in Brooklyn, Kings fans are still scared of Lundqvist’s potential to steal a game. Combine that with Mats Zuccarello and Marty St. Louis figuring out how to use their speed against the Kings’ banged-up defense … and this could easily be 2-2 heading back to L.A. on Friday.

Katie Bakes: Wait, Dan Girardi doesn’t worry you? Remember when he garnered Norris votes, charmed the world via his cute son on 24/7, and was described by John Tortorella as having “balls as big as the building?” DOES ANYBODY REMEMBER LAUGHTER?

The Royal Half: No, but Marty St. Louis and Brad Richards are old enough to remember seeing Zeppelin play at MSG in 1973. And Willie Mitchell drove them.

Katie Bakes: The Song Remains The Same. Anyway, you’ve already basically admitted to planning the parade. So let’s reinforce the jinx: Who would your Conn Smythe pick be? (As Toronto radio host Greg Brady pointed out, if we were having this discussion three years ago before Game 3, we’d be deciding between Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo.) Often the default player is a team’s goalie; you generally can’t make it to the final and win the Cup without a standout performance in net. But at this point, I don’t think there’s much of a chance Quick will be getting his second playoff MVP award.

I’m assuming it will be Drew Doughty — he of the umpteen spinoramas — or Kopitar, but my wish would be for it to go to Gaborik. What can I say, I have a soft spot for the guy.

The Royal Half: I wonder if Marian Gaborik will take a trip back to the Whole Foods where he bought his Christmas tree a few years ago for old times’ sake.

Those are all great choices. And after Game 1 I would have easily said Drew Doughty. But now, after spending a few days in L.A. with a bunch of sentimental sportswriters … I feel like it has to go to Justin Williams, right? He’s two points behind Kopitar for the league lead, his advanced stats are off the chart, and even his remedial stat (plus/minus) leads the playoffs. I feel like Doughty is the sexier choice (even with his greasy hair), but I think Williams might provide the better copy for journalists, and isn’t that the most important thing here?

Katie Bakes: It sure would be Peak Narrative, particularly because Williams just might be playing in another Game 7. I’m probably a fool, but I still maintain that this could be a series that goes the distance. For a team that has blown multiple leads and lost twice in overtime, the Rangers have been pretty decent competition for the Kings. One bounce over here, or one relatively routine whistle for goalie contact in the crease over there, and we’re likely looking at a 1-1 series entering Game 3.

Los Angeles has visibly struggled to match the speed of players like Carl Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello, and Chris Kreider — the latter of whom I thought was going to win Game 2 when he got that unmolested breakaway. (Like his team, he was unable to capitalize on the opportunity and wound up dazed and left for dead against the boards.)

On the other hand, Kopitar, the player I most feared going into this, has yet to truly hit his stride. This scares me more than it reassures; it’s kind of like the reaction to NHL top prospect Sam Bennett’s inability to do a pull-up at the recent NHL combine. If he’s this good without being at his peak, just imagine how much better he can get!

But wait, I was here to argue for the Rangers’ chances! This is a group that found itself down 3-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins and then won three straight games — two on the road — to battle back. In the locker room following Game 2, the vibe was melancholic and yet recognizably resolute. It’s not outside the realm of possibility to think the Rangers could win both games at home.

The Royal Half: Are you trying to imply that the New York Rangers are like some sort of insect that can’t be destroyed? Because if so … Alec Martinez trademarked that after the Kings beat Chicago when he said the L.A. Kings were like a cockroach. Although he could have just been previewing the New York City hotel room that most journalists would be staying at.

Speaking of which, all the sportswriter tweets and Instagrams while in L.A. were about beaches and In-N-Out Burger. What will their coverage of New York feature?

Katie Bakes: Shake Shack and garbage. And flight delays.

The Royal Half: I’ve already seen plenty of photos of New York City garbage on the streets. But that’s just because I’ve seen all the coverage of the Will Ferrell “Go Kings Go” billboard that was outside MSG. To be honest, it’s really his best work since Stranger Than Fiction.

Filed Under: 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, NHL, Hockey, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers

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Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ katiebakes