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For Kings, proper perspective comes with experience

Wednesday, 05.09.2012 / 4:55 PM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- In separate interviews, in separate corners of the dressing room, Mike Richards, Matt Greene and Dustin Penner let the nicknames of the eight players on the Kings roster that have been to the Stanley Cup Final roll off their tongues like they had the list right at the tip.

Richie, Greener and Pens are three of them, so that part was easy. Scuds (Rob Scuderi), Willy (Justin Williams), Stollie (Jarret Stoll), Cartsy (Jeff Carter) and Fras (Colin Fraser) are the other five.

While they didn't mention him, you can also count coach Darryl Sutter in that group.

Why do Richards, Greene and Penner have the list memorized and emblazoned on the forefront of their consciousness? They know it can be their big advantage heading into the Western Conference Finals against Phoenix, which will ice a lineup against the Kings that includes only two players that have been to the Stanley Cup Final and only one (Ray Whitney) that has a ring.

"I definitely think it helps as a mentality that bleeds onto the rest of the guys," said Penner, who won the Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007. "We've been there before. We know what to expect."

And they know how far they still have to go.

Eight wins, especially when it takes a team only nine games, is a major accomplishment in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It means you've put yourself in the NHL's final four, that nobody can argue your position among the elite teams in the League. It means the hockey world is talking about you, praising you, admiring your accomplishment.

It also means you have eight more wins to go to lift the silver prize; eight more grueling tests that Scuderi, a Cup champion with Pittsburgh in 2009, said are harder than the first eight.

Perspective is a must. Experience helps you gain it.

The Kings have both in spades.

"It's the toughest thing because you win a couple of rounds, you're watching other hockey games, and people are talking about you and the good job you're doing," Scuderi told NHL.com. "It's easy to think too much of yourself before you actually accomplish something. We didn't win anything yet.

"It's been great so far," he added. "We've played great and it's OK to see that and realize that, but it's another thing to get an inflated ego."

That's the great challenge, one Penner likened to the famous Yogi Berra quote, "Ninety percent of the game is half mental."

"Even though you feel a sense of accomplishment, a couple of hours after clinching that series you have to throw everything out the window, all that hard work," Penner said. "That's the mentality that you need even though it creeps in sometimes because you get more media attention, more people talking to you, saying you guys are so good. You have to block it out. You can't really appreciate it until after you've truly done something.

"When you start reading too much of your own press clippings nine games in, it can have a negative effect on you."

But all the Kings are getting now is positive press and screams of adulation and appreciation from a growing fan base here in Southern California.

It's been 19 years -- a full generation of fans born and now either in their 20s or approaching them -- since Kings hockey was on the sports consciousness in Los Angeles the way it is right now.

Those fans feel a sense of accomplishment about their team. They believe the Kings, their eighth-seeded darlings that disappointed in the regular season before finally clinching a playoff berth, have won something already and the next prize will simply be shinier.

That has to be hard to ignore.

"At the end of the day it doesn't really matter," Greene, a runner-up with Edmonton in 2006, told NHL.com. "If you start going by what the fans are saying, I'm sure everybody in here would have been traded already and now I think everybody is inducted into the Hall of Fame. You can't ride that wave. We're happy that people are behind us and know that we're playing well, doing good things out there. But at the end of the day, what matters is what the coaching staff and the team is pushing in the locker room here. That's all that matters for us."

They're pushing patience, preaching about the grind, about being only halfway through it.

"You have a healthy squad and you have guys that raise their level come playoff time, and I think we have all those factors right now that every championship team needs," said Williams, a Cup champ with Carolina in 2006. "But in saying that, we've won two rounds. That's it. There's four teams left. We're happy about that. We want to be the last team standing."

But now there isn't only pressure to be that team.

"Now you're getting into the third round and there are expectations," Richards, a runner-up with Philadelphia in 2010, told NHL.com.

That's another reason why it's so important for the Kings that almost half of the guys in their lineup are entering familiar territory.

"I guess glass half full is when you're halfway, you've done well, you're playing well, you should be as a team confident," Richards said. "You can't get overconfident. You've seen teams get big victories over teams and then take a step back. We're excited and happy about the situation we're in, but we're still a long way before we get to where we want to be."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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