By Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer
NEWARK, N.J. -- The Los Angeles Kings were playing game No. 81 when they officially qualified for the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their place in the Western Conference wasn't determined until they completed game No. 82.
Despite the touch-and-go nature of actually making the playoffs, the Kings' play in the postseason has been regal. Los Angeles lost only two games while dispatching the top three seeds in the West, taking a 3-0 lead in each series.
Now the Kings are ready to face the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, but could their staggering success this postseason put them at a disadvantage Wednesday night at Prudential Center?
"I don't think any game against the Vancouver Canucks is not adversity," Los Angeles general manager Dean Lombardi said Tuesday at Stanley Cup Final Media Day. "That's a heck of a hockey team. If anybody saw the St. Louis Blues this year, they were probably the hardest-working team in the League. So OK, the results were there, but if you don't think that was adversity ... Phoenix, unfortunately everyone only looks at their financial situation and completely overlooks that it's a good hockey team that is really well-coached. We were fortunate to come on the right side of the scores.
"Also, this team faced a tremendous amount of adversity during the season. They're well-versed in adversity and the kids have grown a lot. I have too much respect for those three teams that we've beat to think that was easy."
The Kings had plenty to overcome just to secure a postseason berth. One of their top forwards, Simon Gagne, hasn't played since Dec. 26 because of a concussion.
Los Angeles was already struggling mightily to score goals and was near or at the bottom of the League standings in goals for much of the season. After a loss to Detroit on March 9-- exactly four weeks from the end of the season -- the Kings were in 10th place in the conference.
From that point forward, they went 9-2-3 to qualify for the playoffs, and they've kept the momentum rolling in the postseason.
"We were kind of playing playoff hockey for the last 20 games of the season," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We knew had to win basically every game in we wanted to make the playoffs, and we knew if we didn't, we were completely underachieving with the guys we had in that room."
The Kings have won 12 of 14 games since the postseason began, and after dispatching the Coyotes in five games during the conference finals, there has been a bit of a wait. Tuesday was the seventh day without a game since winning the conference title for only the second time in franchise history.
"The adrenaline will be there," captain Dustin Brown said when asked about any possible effects from the long layoff. "I think it is important for us to really zone in and make sure we're good with the Xs and Os. That might be where you see some rust, but I don't think you'll see it in the energy levels because it is the Stanley Cup [Final]."
This series should be more of a matchup of similar styles than either team faced in the conference finals. Both Los Angeles and New Jersey like to press opposing defensemen into mistakes and try to play with the puck as much as possible.
Phoenix and the New York Rangers were willing to sit back and try to absorb the pressure. Now both teams will likely be trying to attack.
"Our forecheck -- we get it in deep and we're capable of getting the puck back," Brown said. "Whether it is the size of our wingers, and we have a lot of guys that are hard to take the puck off of. It is one of those things that the more time we spend in their zone, the easier it is for our goaltender and our defensemen."
The Coyotes possessed a weapon to try and subdue the Kings' forecheck -- goaltender Mike Smith. He's one of the best in the League at playing the puck after the opposing team dumps it into his end of the ice.
With the exception of Game 4, when Smith had a huge impact with his puckhandling, Los Angeles found a way around that tactical advantage. If Smith is one of the NHL's best right now at playing the puck, Martin Brodeur is one of the all-time greats at it.
"You've got to be thinking about it. It has got to be in your mind before you even start to play the game," center Jarrett Stoll said. "You're not just facing their defense, like [Anton] Volchenkov or [Marek] Zidlicky. You're facing Brodeur too, and he's one of their defensemen, basically. You have to be smart and puck placement has to be in your mind. Otherwise, we're going to be in and out a lot of times. We saw that when they played the Rangers -- there [were] a lot of in and outs because of that."
About a month before this postseason began, the Kings were struggling to reach the postseason. Had they missed, it could have meant big changes in Los Angeles.
When the playoffs began, few pundits expected it to be a successful one for the Kings. Now they are here, one series victory from claiming the Stanley Cup for the first time. It has been a fantastic run, but it doesn't officially become a historic one unless there are four more wins in the coming days.
"A lot of work went into this and we worked hard this year to get to this stage. We want to take advantage of it," Stoll said. "We're not anywhere yet. At the end of this whole deal, we want to be happy with our game and what we've done. We've been through a lot this year as a group and it has made us so much stronger as we went on through the season and that stretch run and the first three rounds so far."
Added Doughty: "It is the Stanley Cup Final. It is the thing you dream about your whole life, having this opportunity to be there. I don't think any of us are satisfied with just being here."