CHICAGO — The Los Angeles Kings’ Marian Gaborik and the Chicago Blackhawks’ Marian Hossa share a lot more than just a first name.
The two right wingers are neighbors in their hometown of Trencin, Slovakia, living on the same street and spending the summers together. Gaborik played with Hossa’s younger brother Marcel, with big brother Marian looking on as Marcel passed to Gaborik for a goal.
But their friendship is officially on hold with their teams going up against one another in the Western Conference finals.
"We talk often during the offseason and we’ve been in touch up to the start of this series," Gaborik said. "That’s pretty much it. No interactions now."
They’re pretty close on the ice as well, but Gaborik has the edge. Three years younger than Hossa, he’s playing even younger than that after the trade to Los Angeles somewhat rejuvenated him. He’s scored nine goals in the playoffs to lead the league and his 15 points is tied for the second-most behind linemate Anze Kopitar.
Gaborik’s hard shot has made the Kings a hard team to beat, as he’s scored two game-winners — one in overtime — and a game-tying goal to force overtime with only seconds left on the clock.
"He is, and always was a pure sniper," Hossa said Monday afternoon after the Blackhawks’ practice at the United Center. "You give him a little time he can release it really quick and can surprise you. He has an unbelievable shot. And his speed, when he gets going, you must know where he is; especially in the middle zone he can use his speed extremely well. In one second he’s behind you and you won’t catch him, so you want to make sure you know where he is all the time."
The marquee battle on the ice in the last round featured two of the league’s best centers in Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf and L.A.’s Kopitar, but this time around the battle is between the two top-line right wingers. They’re not only headlining the series, but headlining in their country as well.
Thus far, it’s Hossa’s line winning the battle. Hossa, center Jonathan Toews and left winger Bryan Bickell effectively shut down the Kings’ top line.
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"It’s a big challenge, obviously," Hossa said. "The first line is really, really productive. They got top players, top scorers in the first line. You want to make sure you know where they are on the ice. I think in Game 1 we did a pretty good job, created some chances, but (Blackhawks’ goaltender Corey Crawford) was great for us. It’s going to be a good challenge for us."
Regardless of the outcome of the series, the two will go back to being friends when it’s over. But for now, it’s a purely professional relationship.
"Right now came to the point where we not going to talk for two weeks," Hossa said. "We try to do our business on the ice. When everything is over, we go back to friendship."