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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

This time of the year, late April sliding ever so slowly toward May, has been called the sweet spot in the calendar for local sports fans.

The baseball teams have come back from spring training in Arizona, played a couple of weeks under the influence of a new season's optimism, and settled in for the long marathon.

Neither the Dodgers or Angels are playing very convincingly yet, but both teams are expected by their fans to make a run at contending for the World Series – way off in the chill of October and November.

The Lakers are getting started in the NBA playoffs, and even with an ugly loss last night in Oklahoma City, the faithful are looking forward to a long run.

And maybe, just maybe, another championship.

This April, the L.A. sports calendar has a strange and unfamiliar entry.

The exotic sight is playoff games at Staples Center for the Los Angeles Kings, the previously hapless hockey team that has been gaining new respect – and selling out the building.

Canadian sports writers I've been watching in the postgame media gatherings with the coaches can barely hide their distaste.

The lowly Kings, they seem to say, don't belong in the tournament that will end, as it always does, with exhausted warriors kissing the Stanley Cup with tears pouring down into their beards.

Whether the Kings do belong in the same rink as the Stanley Cup won't be known for another six weeks. And maybe not for another year or two -- or longer.

The next couple of days, though, will begin to tell the story. Right now the series is tied 2-2.

The Kings and the Vancouver Canucks play tonight in British Columbia. When they come back to L.A. for game six on Sunday evening, one of the teams will be poised to win the series and move on.

For now, and for however long it lasts, the long suffering hockey fans of L.A. are having a ball.

The TV ratings are up, and those with tickets are rocking Staples Center louder and harder than anything the Lakers fans produce.

The sidewalks Downtown begin filling with black and purple and classic old yellow jerseys hours before the games. Long before the teams come out on the ice, the arena vibrates with the chant of “Go Kings Go.”

At the slightest sign of weakness by the opposing goalie, the crowd will sarcastically sing his name. The ritual dates back at least to when the Kings played Vancouver in the 1982 playoffs.

A snarly old pro named Harold Snepsts came in for some memorable taunting, and Kings fans have heaped on the verbal abuse ever since – even throwing derisive chants at the great Wayne Gretzky before he became a King.

The Kings coach, a professorial type named Terry Murray, said he'd been promised that when the Kings finally made the playoffs, the building would be loud and partisan.

After the Kings took game three on Monday night, he said it was all that and more – and very helpful to his young players.

Most of them are playing for the first time under the intense media glare and physical battering of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

They're still learning how to win big games, and if they flame out this weekend, no one will be real surprised.

The Wall Street Journal called the Kings phenomenon a strange new L.A. bandwagon that has nothing to do with Botox or tiny dogs or trendy diets.

These fans are anything but trendy – I recognize faces in the crowd from the Forum 25 years ago. For now, they're just enjoying hockey in April.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.

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