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Ex-King sees no miracle, just a solid squad

Thursday, 12.17.2009 / 6:18 PM / NHL Insider

By Todd Kimberley - Correspondent

He's the man remembered for the Miracle on Manchester, the 1982 stunner that triggered the biggest playoff series upset in NHL history.

But when Daryl Evans looks at the current edition of the Los Angeles Kings -- that's the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Kings -- he doesn't see any miracles. He sees resolve, teamwork and plenty of heirs apparent.

"It makes you proud," said Evans, who played 115 games in purple and gold, of the Kings' ascension to No. 1 in the West. "It's really good to see. Looking at the present, you can see the future. There are so many good young players here. The core of this team is a young group.

"Having been with it as long as I have, I've seen a lot of the downs, and there haven't been too many bright spots of late," added Evans, 48, who has spent the past 11 years as the color man on the Kings' radio broadcasts.

"It makes it exciting to come to the rink. All of a sudden, the team is on the front page of the sports section, which is huge. You go from city to city, all of a sudden people are really intrigued about this team, and talking about them in a positive manner. Like I said, it makes you proud to be a King."

The Kings (22-11-3) have held at least a share of the top spot in the Western Conference since they defeated the visiting Dallas Stars in a shootout on Dec. 12.

Heading into Thursday night's road game in Calgary against the Flames (19-10-4), Terry Murray's Pacific Division-leading purple posse had 47 points, two better than the 45 put up by San Jose and Chicago.

This is rare territory for the Kings, whose last conference lead this late in the season came way back in 1991, during the Wayne Gretzky era. On March 13, 1991, the Kings led the Campbell Conference with 91 points, and sat 20 games above .500.

"We've got a good leadership group. We've got some really good young players on the club. Jonathan Quick has been outstanding for us in net pretty much the whole way. But I think, above everything, the chemistry of the team is real good," Murray said Thursday morning.

"The players enjoy each other. They're playing for their teammate. They're looking each other in the eye at the end of the game, and saying, ‘I gave you everything I could here tonight.' "

"That's a pretty special thing, when you have a group with that kind of an attitude. It's carried us through some difficult stretches. We've been able to get points in a few games recently, where maybe last year we couldn't. That speaks of the character of the team."

Statistically speaking, these Kings aren't what you'd call spectacular, having scored only four more goals than they've allowed, and possessing a middle-of-the road power play and back-of-the-pack penalty kill.

But stats don't tell the whole story, such as the baptism by fire experienced by young blueliners Drew Doughty, 20, Jack Johnson, 22, and Davis Drewiske, 25; or 23-year-old Quick's steady play between the pipes; or the yeoman's efforts by 21-year-old Wayne Simmonds to fill in for the injured Ryan Smyth since Nov. 18; or second-liner Brad Richardson's emergence from the doghouse; or the coming-of-age process for Slovenian superstar Anze Kopitar, 22.

Now that Johnson, Simmonds and center Jarret Stoll have joined Smyth on the list of walking wounded, however, the Kings will be welcoming an eight-day break that doesn't see them play again until Dec. 26.

"It's still a growing process, but they've found a core of this team that's a tight-knit group," said Evans, who was a big part of the underdog Kings' gigantic first-round upset of the Edmonton Oilers back in 1982. "The group met this summer on their own, with a players' get-together in the month of July to get to know each other, and became a family. That's carried on into this season.

"Last year, there was some real frustration (after missing playoffs for the seventh straight season). You could see guys finally putting their foot down and saying: ‘Enough's enough. We need to be better, and we've got to take the next step.' "

Quote of the Day

We've got to find a way to win a game. He's played well in the minors, now he gets his opportunity. We tried [with Jonathan Bernier]. The way I look at it, you get opportunities and you make the most of it. That's what [James Reimer] did. Now another opportunity is here and Sparks ... you gotta grab it. Is he ready? We'll find out.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to the Toronto Star on recalling goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL to start Monday in his NHL debut
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