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Kings grateful for day off after surviving Sharks

by Curtis Zupke / Los Angeles Kings

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Kings center Mike Richards awoke Wednesday to a warm Southern California morning and enjoyed not having to go to the rink.

"I laid in bed for probably an hour-and-a-half, two hours just to unwind," Richards said in a conference call. "It was nice just to relax and take your mind off it a little bit and give your brain a little bit of a rest."

Richards and his Los Angeles Kings teammates could finally rest after they churned out a 2-1, Game 7 win against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Semifinals. It ended a 29-day span during which the Kings played 13 games, including 11 one-goal games.

Last season, L.A. needed nine games to get through the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and neither series was as grueling as the conference quarterfinals against the St. Louis Blues and the nail-biting semifinals against San Jose.

"Obviously it's a lot different than going up 3-0 last year, starting as the road team," forward Dustin Penner said. "I think we would have been fooling ourselves to think that we would have [done that again]. It would have been nice, but every playoff poses its different challenges, and it's up to the team and players as a whole to rise to the challenge, and we've been able to do that so far.

"It's been a lot more wear and tear, I think, on us mentally and physically, but we've been able to overcome it thus far. We're only halfway done."

Richards agreed it's been a grind, from the preparation to the shift-to-shift fatigue.

"It's been a tough year, and I think the coaching staff has done a great job of giving us rest when we need it, and I think the players have done a good job of not using it as an excuse and really just finding it and playing with what you got," he said.

The rare day off allows the Kings to sit at home and watch Game 7 of the other conference semifinal between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. If Chicago wins, it would have home-ice advantage for the conference finals starting Saturday. If Detroit wins, the Kings would have home ice and return to play Friday.

Los Angeles has 14 straight wins at Staples Center, including seven in the playoffs. The Kings are 26-4-1 at home this year.

"Either team has a lot of skill," Richards said. "I think if you look at both rosters, they have world-class players and great goaltenders. Really just a lot of different threats on the ice. Obviously it's nice to play at home. I'm not picking somebody, but Detroit would be nice so we can have home-ice advantage because I think, in the playoffs, everyone sees how important it is."

Los Angeles could have center Jarret Stoll available after a concussion that forced him to miss the final six games of the semifinals. Stoll has been skating with the team and remains day-to-day.

L.A. struggled with faceoffs and missed Stoll's blue-collar work on the penalty kill. Coach Darryl Sutter rearranged two of his lines and used Trevor Lewis in Stoll's place at third-line center.

"We've missed him, obviously a lot, and hopefully [we'll] get him back here at some point," Richards said of Stoll. "It will be a big boost for us. Whenever you can play with a full roster at this time of year with the depth that we have, I think is going to benefit us."

Defenseman Drew Doughty welcomed the rest as much as anyone. He leads the NHL postseason in total ice time, logging 27:57 minutes per game.

He was one of many relieved Kings in the handshake line with the Sharks. He said he restricted contact with boyhood friend Logan Couture and would hold off on talking smack.

"I'm not going to start chirping him or anything just yet," Doughty said. "We'll wait for the softball tournament. Obviously he's probably pretty upset, so I'm not going to make it any worse.

"I just talked to him quickly and talked to him after the game. He's frustrated with the way the series turned out. He loves the game of hockey. He competes. He cares a lot. He's obviously pretty frustrated, and rightfully so."

Doughty was among those Kings in the 2011 handshake line after San Jose eliminated L.A. in the conference quarterfinals, on Joe Thornton's overtime goal in Game 6 at Staples Center. Earlier, San Jose erased a 4-0 deficit and won Game 3 in overtime.

At the time it put serious doubt into the Kings' long-term success plan. Although it seems like a long time ago, Doughty used it as fuel.

"I kept thinking about that, especially the last game," he said. "Not all the guys on the team witnessed that, but there's a lot of us. Just remembering that we were up 4-0 and they came back and beat us in their own building and we were making sure that didn't happen again. I can still picture Joe getting that last goal and celebrating in the middle of the ice. That's really why we wanted to beat them."

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