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Kings Learn, Look to Improve

by Andrew Howard / Los Angeles Kings
The Kings and Canucks shake hands after a hard fought 4-2 series win by Vancouver.

The game was over, a 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals marking the end of the season for the Los Angeles Kings, yet still the Kings players remained on the ice taking one more skate for their hometown fans.

Those who remained from the standing-room-only crowd of 18,287 at STAPLES Center gave their team a hearty applause, a well-earned reception for what has to be considered a successful season for the Kings.

A year after finishing second to last in the Western Conference, the Kings had a break-out season, finishing in sixth place in the Conference with 101 points and making the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

While the mood of the locker room after the game was subdued, the talk of the players suggested a more positive outlook on the bright future this young team seems to have.

"I thought we had a good series," said defenseman Drew Doughty of the Kings 4-2 series loss to the Canucks. "It's unfortunate obviously that we're done now but overall I think we're pretty happy with our season."

In his postgame press conference, Kings coach Terry Murray said that while it is too early to make an accurate assessment on the entire season, he did point out that the team accomplished many of the goals set for it.

"In general it was maybe a little bit better than what I expected at the start of the year," Murray said. "We end up with 101 points. I did expect us to be in the playoffs, I did expect us to be a pretty good hockey club at the end of the day. We had some stretches of games this year we played simply outstanding, road games in particular. I think the team has taken big strides in the right direction here."

Murray added that with the young nucleus the Kings have, along with the depth in the minor and junior leagues, the organization seems to be in a good position to have continued success for years to come.

Kings forward Anze Kopitar, who led the team with 81 points in the regular season, said that while the rebuilding process has been in the works for a few years, the team is now firmly set.

"Last year was really the team that got put together that's going to go for a few more years down the road now," Kopitar said. "In two years I think we've accomplished a lot."

An integral part of the season was the solid play of goaltender Jonathan Quick in his first full season as the No. 1 goaltender. While he did not end the regular season playing at the level he or the coaches would have liked, Quick set a franchise record for wins in the regular season (39), amassed a 2.54 goals against average and was selected to participate in the 2010 Winter Olympics on the United States silver medal team.

Kings forward Ryan Smyth, a veteran of deep playoff runs, told Quick after the game that he has a lot to be proud of.

"He told me I had a great year, great season, great series," Quick said. "It means a lot coming from a guy like that. He battles all year long, night in and night out."

Smyth, who made it to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006 with the Edmonton Oilers, was impressed with the way the young players handled the pressure in their first playoff experience.

"I look at it as these young kids that played their first times in the playoffs didn't look out of place by it by any means at all," Smyth said. "It was a big battle and all you can do is take the positive and learn from it and hopefully come back next year and get in."

Captain Dustin Brown, having just played in the playoffs for the first time in his six-year career, said that while the end result is not desired, it is necessary.

"That's just part of the process," Brown said. "Sometimes you have to go through tough times like this before you can get to the next level."

With the season over, the team now scatters. Some will go home; some will vacation while others simply will relax. After a few days, the pain of the loss may subside so that they can realize exactly what they were able to accomplish a few years before some may have thought.

One player who is confident is Doughty.

"We finally made the playoffs after how many years it was and now that we have that experience I think next season we'll really go into it looking to be a Stanley Cup contender."
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