Commentary

Friendships on hold for the Cup

Doughty, Couture are best buddies in offseason, but that doesn't matter in playoffs

Updated: April 18, 2014, 8:46 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Moments before a faceoff Thursday night, Drew Doughty slapped Logan Couture with his stick.

But don't call it a love tap.

"I think he was just giving me a whack, probably just like any other player would whack you," Couture smiled Friday.

And to think, they'll both be in the same wedding party this summer.

The two buddies from London, Ontario, hang out in the offseason, work out together and play golf with each other nearly every other day.

"He lives about three minutes away from my house in London," Couture said. "We've got the same group of good friends. We're pretty close."

But there's a line that doesn't get crossed. For starters, neither star player will divulge anything team-related to the other.

"I talk to Logan a little bit over the summers about their team, but he doesn't really give me any insight that I don't already know," Doughty said Thursday before Game 1.

[+] EnlargeDrew Doughty, Logan Couture
Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI/Getty ImagesLogan Couture and Drew Doughty do everything together in the offseason, but that doesn't change the way they play against each other.

And certainly, that extends to injuries.

"When he [Doughty] got hurt against us a couple of weeks ago, I texted him to see how he was doing," Couture said. Doughty missed the Kings' final four regular-season games with an upper-body injury.

"I'm pretty sure he lied to me about his injury and said he was fine. We keep it pretty close to the vest."

And for two weeks, that friendship is frozen. Not that it's easy, though.

"It's weird," Couture said. "When I go on the forecheck and I see No. 8, it's my buddy, but I'm still going to finish my check on him. You're trying to win the Stanley Cup and you're going to do whatever it takes, even if it is finishing a check on one of your best friends."

Another Sharks player who has grown to appreciate Doughty, and vice versa for that matter, is Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

The Vlasic-Doughty duo was sensational in the Sochi Olympics for Team Canada; even more impressive was the seamless transition the California NHL rivals made in pairing together.

Sitting just a few rows up from the ice in Sochi, the media could hear the players talk to each other. Very noticeable was the incredible communication between Vlasic and Doughty, as if they had been partners for 10 years.

"When you have a new partner, communication is key, and that's what we did," Vlasic said Friday. "The chemistry happened pretty quickly. I don't know how to explain it, but we played really well together."

The mutual admiration is clear.

"He's a good player," Doughty said of Vlasic. "He's simple. He doesn't try to do too much. He makes the easy outlet pass. He's not the most physical player, but he's such a good skater and he's so good with the stick that he's so good defensively.

"I didn't pick up too many weaknesses from him," added Doughty. "He's a good all-around player. He's going to be one of those guys who has to pull through and have a big series in order for them to win. We've got to pay special attention to him."

Mission accomplished for the Sharks defenseman in Game 1. Vlasic put up a goal and an assist while matching up against Anze Kopitar's Kings line.

The top Sharks blueliner came back a different player from Sochi.

"Being there with those players, playing with the best and playing against the best players helped [my confidence], playing in [a] semifinal and final game where it's one game and, if you lose, you have to wait four more years," Vlasic said. "Just having that experience, being able to bring it here into the playoffs, that's huge. I feel since the Olympics my game has grown, and I have to keep that going here."

[+] EnlargeDrew Doughty, Marc-Edouard Vlasic
AP Photo/Julio CortezDrew Doughty and Marc-Edouard Vlasic paired together for Team Canada in Sochi and looked like they had been defensive partners for years.

Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said he thinks Vlasic has always played like he belonged, but that Sochi was the icing on the cake.

"It confirmed in his mind and probably a lot of others that he fits in with that group," McLellan said. "Very good for his confidence. Good for our team's confidence, as well. Our team really believes in him as an individual."

Like Doughty and Couture's friendship, that Vlasic-Doughty relationship is also put on hold for now.

There wasn't much said on the ice in Game 1 between the two defensemen.

"I just said hi to Doughty, maybe a couple of looks here and there," Vlasic said. "But other than that, not much. Once you start talking to guys, then they either think you're off your game or they try to get you off, you know it's mind games. I just stay quiet. Give him a nod, stay quiet, and you're working after that."

Even in Sochi, both players were careful not to bring up much related to Sharks-Kings.

"We didn't talk about it," Doughty said. "With all the guys, they really didn't talk too much about their teams and stuff like that."

Said Vlasic: "The only thing he'd say was, 'How do you like playing with Cooch [Couture]?' Because they know each other. Other than that it was all about Team Canada. Same with hanging out with [Ryan] Getzlaf or [Corey] Perry or [Jeff] Carter, we didn't really talk about whether we'd play each other in the playoffs. It was about Canada."

And now it's about beating each other in one of the NHL's most intense rivalries.

It's surreal in some ways just how much these players want to beat each other right now. But they'll be pals again soon.

"It's different," agreed Couture on playing Doughty again in the playoffs. "We've played those guys three out of the last four years. Kind of getting used to seeing each other at this time of year. We put that friendship on hold for a couple of weeks. It's difficult, but in the end you're playing for the Stanley Cup and both guys want to win. Once the series ends, we'll be friends again."

Those guys on Team Canada will have a bond forever, but Vlasic says facing Carter and Doughty now is absolutely fine.

"It's great," Vlasic said. "Off the ice, you're friends with them. But on the ice, you've got to beat them."

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