Dustin Penner knows what it's like to ascend to the top of the mountain that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs and have a city's rapt attention: He was part of a dominant Anaheim Ducks team that captured the Cup in 2007.
But Penner never experienced what happened Tuesday night when the Los Angeles Kings' flight from Phoenix arrived back in L.A. A mass of fans reportedly in the thousands greeted the Kings after they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final with a 4-3 overtime win against the Coyotes.
"It was like driving down a hallway filled with human flesh," Penner said in a conference call Thursday. "You couldn't see anything but people screaming and Kings jerseys. Not anything anyone will forget ever … It's a nice little feather to put in your hat, especially in a city like L.A."
COYOTES VS. KINGS
Kings advance to Cup Final with OT winBy Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer
Dustin Penner scored at 17:42 of overtime to give the Kings a 4-3 victory against the Coyotes, completing a five-game triumph in the Western Conference Finals and putting them into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993. READ MORE ›
There hasn't been a light this bright on the Kings since the 1993 team advanced to their first Final with Wayne Gretzky leading the way. Penner's overtime goal ended the most entertaining game of the series and got notice from at least one other well-known local pro athlete.
"This @LAKings game has my nerves bad," Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul posted on his official Twitter account during the game. "…these guys are playing hard!!!"
Coach Darryl Sutter again reflected on what the first trip to the Final in 19 years means for the franchise. While the Toronto Maple Leafs have the longest Stanley Cup drought at 45 years, the Kings and St. Louis Blues, who entered the League together in the 1967 expansion -- a few months after the Leafs' last Cup -- own the dubious distinction of playing the most regular-season games without winning a championship.
"I think any time you make the playoffs, it's something for the franchise," Sutter said. "I think any time you win a round, it's important to the franchise. Any time you get to play for a conference championship, it's important for the franchise. It's for everybody that's a part of it. It's awesome. It's a great experience. I keep saying, ‘Experience the experience.'"
As expected, Sutter and the Kings took Wednesday off. Although they have advanced to the Final in 14 games, just two more than the minimum, Sutter indicated the idle time is needed "because there are more bumps and bruises as you go along. We'll use the time in our favor for those reasons."
The Kings have seven days off until the Final begins May 30 at either the New York Rangers or New Jersey Devils. It's their longest break between series. They grew antsy when they had six days off between the conference semifinals and finals, but Sutter didn't see it as much of a difference.
"Third time in six weeks we'll have exactly the same routine," Sutter said. "That's one advantage of winning four before you lose three. We'll manage it the same and go from there."
Ideally, Sutter would like to travel Monday to get his team acclimated to East Coast time, but that could be dictated on League-required media obligations. Sutter has watched the Rangers-Devils series more as a fan but said he will "break it down as we go." One twist is that Sutter's predecessor, Terry Murray, fired in December but still retained within the organization, is scouting the series for the Kings.
Penner will tune in to the Eastern Conference Finals, but said his attention is more on his own team.
"You focus and pay attention on the position we're in now," Penner said. "It's just something everybody realizes that we have an opportunity to do something historical, monumental here."
Penner was asked again about his personal journey this season, in which he went from the doghouse to the penthouse. He credited his teammates and took a step back to look at the bigger picture of the biggest goal of his career.
"It was a goal, not to sound cliché, that was bigger than me," he said.