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Posted On Tuesday, 06.05.2012 / 4:22 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Devils vs. Kings Stanley Cup Final blog

Gagne's return provided Kings with 'extra jump'

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- It was difficult to tell whether Simon Gagne had the desired impact when he returned to the lineup for the first time in five months.

Gagne played fewer than seven minutes of ice time Monday in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, and Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter wouldn't elaborate on Gagne on Tuesday. Game 4 is Wednesday.

"Well he hadn't played for six months," Sutter said. "He played six minutes. So we'll make that decision tomorrow."

In a stunning move, Sutter activated Gagne in place of Brad Richardson on the fourth line. Gagne had not played since Dec. 26 because of a concussion, but eventually got healthy and, remarkably, became available in late May.

Gagne's teammates were naturally happy to see him return after such a long road back.

"He's been my teammate for a while, and to see him come back from something that didn't look very good for him -- it was a big thing, I think, for our hockey team," Mike Richards said. "It gave us probably a little extra jump to see him in the lineup."

Richards identifies with Gagne, a former Philadelphia Flyers teammate, because Richards also had a concussion in December. Richards only missed eight games and hinted he might have come back too soon. Gagne was out for so long it was thought to be a potentially career-ending concussion.

"A good friend, to come back from an injury like that -- sometimes you don't know with things like that," Richards said. "It was nice to see and I'm sure he enjoyed being on the ice and we definitely enjoyed having him."

By playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Gagne is eligible to get his name engraved on the Cup, although a team can also petition for a player to receive the honor.

Gagne had seven goals and 10 assists in 34 regular season games.

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Posted On Monday, 06.04.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Devils vs. Kings Stanley Cup Final blog

Kings excited by mild weather, good ice conditions

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles in June is not exactly what comes to mind when thinking of crisp ice surfaces and fall-like weather conditions. But defenseman Willie Mitchell sounded giddy after the morning skate at Staples Center on a mild, gray Monday.

"I don't want to say it, but it felt like the [Edmonton] Oilers ice in the mid-'90s out there," Mitchell said. "It felt great.  We could have a decent hockey game on our hands -- not too humid. It's cold out there, the ice is nice. You can actually make passes.

"You don't say that about Staples ice too often. It tells you how bad the ice was out in New Jersey. It felt really nice out there and guys were quite excited about it, and I'm sure the Devils will be as well. I think you'll probably get much more up-tempo hockey game because of that."

Both the Kings and Devils are looking forward to a smoother surface for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after they slugged through a humid Game 1 at the Prudential Center. Several players complained about the poor ice causing bouncing pucks as both teams had to play more conservatively.

It's a common issue with hockey in June, no matter the city or venue. Mother Nature seemed to be in compliance in L.A. on Monday as it was expected to be 69 degrees with 71 percent humidity.

A full building will affect the ice slightly, but the Kings players said a Staples surface that isn't known for smoothness felt good.

"It was a lot better -- which is funny considering Staples ice," captain Dustin Brown said. "We complain about Staples ice all year. Granted, it's a lot better when it's an empty building … I think it will be a quicker game because of the ice."

Said Jarret Stoll, "I think the temperature in the building is a difference, for sure. I noticed it during the skate this morning. We expect to be sharp. We expect to be crisp, and we'll go for there."

Home ice hasn't really been kind to the Kings. Their only two losses of the Stanley Cup Playoffs have come at Staples. They have outscored opponents 34-15 on the road and 11-9 at home. They have one power-play goal at home against five on the road.

Those five shorthanded goals by L.A.? All came on the road.

The Kings will otherwise look to feed off their home crowd. Although cavernous, Staples Center is known as one of the louder arenas come playoff time, and the adrenaline level can be elevated for players.

"You got to harness it," Mitchell said. "I think you can't play outside yourself. Just do what we do and do it hard, and kind of find that fine line where you don't get overly excited and use it to motivate you."
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Posted On Monday, 06.04.2012 / 2:24 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Devils vs. Kings Stanley Cup Final blog

Brown still seeking first point of Stanley Cup Final

LOS ANGELES -- Kings captain Dustin Brown was the early favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy but the New Jersey Devils have kept him off the score sheet in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final.

Brown, who had seven goals and nine assists in the first 14 playoff games, had no shots on goal with four hits in Game 2. He said the Devils have been effective defending his line of Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams.

"I think they've done a good job on us," Brown said. "I think it's up to me, Kopi and Williams to make adjustments to be better. I think collectively we had one shot on goal last game, which is not good enough, individually or as a line. And that's up to me, Kopi and Will to find a way to better. I know I can be personally better along the walls. I'm sure if you ask Kopi and Will, they'll say they can be better."

Brown, of course, does other things that count. He had three shots and three hits and a blocked shot in Game 1.

"Brownie does a lot of things that people don't notice," Jarret Stoll said. "He's doing his thing. He's a player that can break out offensively at any moment. He does a lot of things out there that help our team win the game. Every facet, on and off the ice, he's phenomenal."
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Posted On Sunday, 06.03.2012 / 6:18 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Devils vs. Kings Stanley Cup Final blog

Kings comfortable playing in tight games

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – The obvious knock on the Los Angeles Kings for most of the season was that they were stellar defensively to stay in games, but didn't have enough offense to close it out a victory.

Even after Darryl Sutter was hired on Dec.21, the Kings struggled to score for two months. However, they still managed to go 25-13-11 under Sutter.

That last number is telling. Los Angeles played in 24 overtime or shootout games in the regular season, tied with the Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks for the second-most in the League. The Kings also played in 46 one-goal games (the New Jersey Devils played in 37). L.A. is 6-0 in one-goal playoff games, while New Jersey is 6-4.

So did the experience from playing in all those close games carry over into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where the Kings are 4-0 in overtime games?

"It would be interesting to see how many one-goal games we've played the last three years," Dustin Brown said.

That's a reflection of former coach Terry Murray, who was instrumental in molding the Kings into the defense-first team that is the foundation of this edition's juggernaut. L.A.'s lack of offense got him fired, though, and Sutter made them more aggressive without compromising that defense.

It also helps to have a unique mix of veterans and young stars, too.

"It's part of the makeup of our team and how we play," Brown said. "I think we're definitely comfortable in tight games, and that's due to some guys having a lot of big game experience and some guys playing here the last few years have been in a lot of those situations."


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Posted On Saturday, 05.26.2012 / 6:55 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Devils vs. Kings Stanley Cup Final blog

Mitchell has warm memories of New Jersey

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Willie Mitchell wonders what would have happened if Les Widdifield hadn't seen him play 16 years ago.

Widdifield was a longtime scout for the New Jersey Devils, and he spotted a young Mitchell playing in tiny Melfort, Sasakatchewan. Widdifield, who died last September, liked what he saw and told his bosses to give this Mitchell kid a long look.

"I still remember that phone call," said Mitchell, who was drafted 199th by New Jersey in 1996 and spent five seasons in the organization. "They took a flyer on me – eighth round, 199 in 1996 playing Tier 2 junior. Probably if they didn't do that, I would have never got the chance."
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Posted On Saturday, 05.26.2012 / 6:16 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Devils vs. Kings Stanley Cup Final blog

Richards not surprised by DeBoer's success

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Of the many ties between the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils, one of the stronger ones is between Mike Richards and Peter DeBoer.

DeBoer coached Richards as coach of the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL for four years, from when Richards was 16 to 19. Richards served as captain on some of those teams, and the relationship helped produced a Memorial Cup in 2003 (New Jersey's David Clarkson was also on that team).
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Posted On Friday, 05.25.2012 / 4:42 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Devils vs. Kings Stanley Cup Final blog

Gagne still hoping to return during Final

It’s easy to forget that Simon Gagne was one of the key acquisitions for the Los Angeles Kings in the summer. He was supposed to be reunited with former Philadelphia Flyers teammate Mike Richards, but his season effectively ended when he was concussed Dec.26.

Or has it ended?

Gagne got medical clearance earlier this month and is now available to play. It’s a long shot integrating Gagne back into the team, although coach Darryl Sutter sort of backed off his earlier stance that Gagne had no chance at playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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Posted On Friday, 05.25.2012 / 4:39 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Devils vs. Kings Stanley Cup Final blog

Brown moving past Doan incident

The handshake line episode after Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals seems to be taking on a life of its own.

Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan and teammate Martin Hanzal had words with Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown after Brown’s hit on Michal Rozsival just before the winning goal. Roszival was injured on the play and never returned.

Doan on Friday apologized for his actions, saying he was wrong to dismiss Brown when Brown tried to explain the play during the handshake.

Brown told NHL.com on Friday that “it’s one of those things that’s done and happened and I’m not really thinking about it Phoenix. I’m more focused on moving forward.”

Brown did say the apology was not surprising considering Doan is known as a class guy off the ice.

“I’ve known him a little bit,” Brown said. “I was taken aback a little bit but, hey, it’s an emotional game.”

Brown found himself talking about the hit on Rozsival again and said it was an unfortunate turn of events from the Coyotes’ perspective.

“I play the game hard, and I thought it was a clean hit, and that’s it,” Brown said. “We’re moving on. Again, it happened so quick for them, that I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt on the emotional level. It’s an emotional game out there.”
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Posted On Thursday, 05.24.2012 / 5:33 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Kings series blog

Handshake line still in Kings' players thoughts

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes weren't considered to be fierce rivals before this season, but it probably won't be the same from here on out.

The teams staged an entertaining Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals that turned scary with Dustin Brown's hit on Michal Rozsival. Phoenix seemed still to be in shock at the play when Dustin Penner scored the series-clinching overtime goal.

Penner called it a "recipe" for what happened next, as the Coyotes' Martin Hanzal and Shane Doan gave Brown a piece of their mind in the post-series handshake line. It still was a topic two days later.

"Yeah, I've never seen that before," Penner said. "I got chirped in line, too, for my headlock I put on [Antoine] Vermette in Game 2. He wanted to rehash that. I was a little surprised."

Did Penner say anything back?

“I was really surprised," Penner said. "[I said] 'I don’t have time to talk, right now, about this. I've got a flight to catch.'"

Did Penner send a BlackBerry message to Vermette?

"We didn't exchange PIN numbers," he said.

Willie Mitchell was too caught up in emotion to notice the handshake incidents, but he was diplomatic about it.

"It's different, but hey, I know their side of it," Mitchell said. "We put so much into it and they're the same way. They put so much into the preparation, the work, to get to that point. There's a lot of emotion involved and I'm sure they were more emotional at the time because their season ended and sometimes stuff gets a little bit heated and that's why hockey's so heated. The intensity level is high. I was surprised by that, but I also understand it."

Kings coach Darryl Sutter had the same feeling about it when he was asked Wednesday.

"It's an emotional time for everybody," he said. "A lot of times there's handshakes done behind closed doors. You leave it at that. The traditional handshake is wonderful. But lots of things happen behind closed doors ... Shane Doan's an awesome player and an awesome captain and I wish he were playing -- just not at our expense."
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Posted On Monday, 05.21.2012 / 5:10 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Kings series blog

Kings in familiar position with Game 5 looming

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Been there, done that?

Well, the Los Angeles Kings have been to Vancouver and done this -- go on the road with a 3-1 series lead and clinch. Now they are in the exact same position, needing to win on the road to eliminate the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

The Vancouver Canucks got a boost from the return of Daniel Sedin in Game 4 to force the quarterfinals to shift back to Vancouver. In this series, Phoenix got something extra from the returns of Martin Hanzal and Adrian Aucoin to move the finals back to Glendale, Ariz.

Justin Williams said after Game 4 that the Kings have to take the same approach as the Vancouver series. Team captain Dustin Brown concurred that this has the same feel.

"We've worked really hard to give ourselves this advantage early in the series and we let an opportunity slip by not capitalizing and being on home ice," Brown said. "Now it's up to guys to rally their own game and rally collectively to go into Phoenix with that attitude that we're coming out of there with a win."

This is the first sign of a setback the Kings have faced since the Vancouver series. In Game 4 of the conference finals they fell into a two-goal deficit for the first time since Game 4 of the quarterfinals; they recovered from that loss with a club record eight-game playoff winning streak that was snapped in Game 4 against the Coyotes.

"I think this team has handled adversity pretty well, considering the type of year we had," Brown said. "This time of year it's about sticking together. We lost one game, so it's a matter of rebounding."

A rebound win would make history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, a win would make the Kings the first team to go unbeaten on the road en route to the Stanley Cup Final under the current playoff format.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter consistently downplays his team's road success and has done a tremendous job of impressing that on his players. Asked about their confidence on the road, Sutter said, "Try to win the next game. It could be in Tucson or Toledo or Los Angeles. To me, that has no bearing on anything."
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