The Los Angeles Kings come into this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs as defending champions after grinding down four opponents last spring. But it's always tougher to repeat as champion than to win the first title, so the Kings will face a tough challenge as they try to become the first team in 15 years to win the Cup in back-to-back seasons.
Do they have the mettle to achieve one of the hardest feats in all of sports? That remains to be seen. But there is no doubt they have the skill and stamina to do so, returning a lineup that is eerily similar to the one that claimed the Cup last June. Still, as they learned last spring, the Stanley Cup Playoffs ask trying questions of even the best teams during its two-month journey.
Here are five of the biggest questions confronting the Kings this spring:
1. Can Jonathan Quick do it again?
Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP with one of the greatest postseasons by a goaltender in NHL history. He hasn't been nearly as sharp this season and has seen some of his playing time go to backup Jonathan Bernier. Though Quick's goals-against average is up from last season and his save percentage is way down, his play during the past couple of weeks shows he may be ready for another big postseason performance.
2. Can the Kings win on the road?
Los Angeles was the best road team in Stanley Cup history last spring, winning its first 10 games away from Staples Center before losing Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at New Jersey. But the Kings struggled mightily away from home during this regular season, winning eight times in their 24 road games while posting one of the NHL's best home records. The Kings' special-teams play was markedly worse on the road this season.
3. Will the young forwards who played a big role last spring be able to repeat their performance?
The Kings' season in 2011-12 took a turn for the better when the team called up youngsters Jordan Nolan and Dwight King from their American Hockey League affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, in February. Neither player was a big scorer, but each added the kind of muscle up front that makes life miserable for opponents. The Kings were able to wear down opponents last spring; they'll need their grinders to step up their game in order to do it again.
4. Will the real Drew Doughty come to the forefront?
At age 23, Doughty already has some major accomplishments in his career -- he's been a Norris Trophy finalist, won an Olympic gold medal with Canada three years ago, and was one of the linchpins of his team's run to the Stanley Cup. But he struggled for much of this season, failing to score a goal for two months. Doughty sees more ice than anyone on the roster (more than 26 minutes per game), but the Kings need him to do more than chew up minutes; they need him to be the special player he was last spring if they're going to repeat.
5. Is being the defending champion a help or a hindrance?
If winning the Stanley Cup once is hard, doing it in back-to-back years has become almost impossible -- the 1998 Detroit Red Wings were the last team to repeat as Cup winners. However, the Kings have played with the confidence of a defending champion for most of the season. They didn't panic when things went wrong or key players struggled. The Kings have all the pieces to win again; they know they're good, and they have the jewelry to prove it.