EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The veteran players with extensive experience are a driving force behind the Los Angeles Kings.
Justin Williams, Rob Scuderi, Dustin Penner and Colin Fraser have won the Stanley Cup with other teams. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene have played in the Final. All were brought back to that special feeling of going to the Final when the Kings clinched a berth with their 4-3 overtime win against the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday.
In the middle of the celebration was an emotional Willie Mitchell, a quietly integral part of the Kings who, as the team's oldest player at age 35, will play in the Final for the first time in his 12-season career.
"It's been a long time coming," Mitchell said. "It's what you work for as a player and a teammate. I was fortunate enough to be out on the ice when big [Dustin Penner] scored [in overtime]. Some guys were jumping and I was just sitting there [thinking], 'Is this happening?' I feel fortunate to get this chance and get the opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup for real."
Mitchell is appreciative particularly because of his career arc the past two years. He had a concussion following a hit by Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin in January 2010 while playing for the Vancouver Canucks and missed the rest of that season. He was seen as damaged goods by most teams and remained a free agent until the Kings signed him to a two-year deal Aug. 25, 2010.
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Mitchell easily could have tested free agency this summer but he opted to sign a two-year, $7 million extension Feb. 24, although the Kings still were a borderline playoff team. Both signings look like the smartest decisions he's made since that concussion.
"As a kid you play how many ... hockey games playing for [the Stanley Cup]?" Mitchell said. "Now [we're] going to be one of two teams to do it for the real deal. I'm really looking forward to it and I'm really just going to enjoy it, especially [because] I had a little time there where I didn't know if hockey was going to continue for that matter.
"I think at this time of year, after going through that, too, it makes me enjoy it that much more."
Coach Darryl Sutter uses Mitchell on both special-teams units this season. His participation on the second power-play unit is a new wrinkle in the role the shut-down defenseman has had for most of his career.
Sutter, who is as stingy with praise as his team is allowing shots, said of Mitchell that it's "good to see those guys that don't get recognition. That's their reward in it all."
Mitchell said this appearance also is unique because L.A. has a chance to make history, having made the Final only one other time, losing to the Montreal Canadiens in five games in 1993.
"It's nice to be a part of it when it hasn't happened in a long time here," he said. "You could see the development and the growth in the organization in the last few years, being in the playoffs and this year taking another step. We're getting to that next level, but the ultimate would be obviously to bring a championship here. That motivates the guys.
"Obviously there’s a lot of personal motivation because that's why we play this game, is for a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup and win it. Obviously to do it in a city that hasn't done that would be really special … they're itching for it, here."