For an NHL player, to never reach the Stanley Cup Finals is rough. Perhaps the only thing worse is to get there and lose. That’s gut-wrenching, particularly when the player doesn’t get another chance at redemption.
It’s been six years since Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll made history as members of the Edmonton Oilers, when the Oilers became the first No. 8-seeded team to reach the Finals. The Oilers lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games in the 2006 Finals, and now Greene and Stoll get another chance.
This year’s Kings have followed the 2006 Oilers as only the second No. 8 seeded-team to ever reach the Finals, and look who is back? Greene and Stoll, as two veteran leaders of the Kings, looking for redemption.
``You never know if you can ever get back there,’’ said Stoll, who will turn 30 next month. ``Some guys never get there. You have to feel very fortunate and honored and lucky to be there, and try to take advantage of the situation and just do your best. You soak it all in, experience it and fun with it, but make sure you’re doing everything possible to try to get that extra edge, to be out there playing your best.’’
Six years ago, Greene, Stoll and the Oilers were the talk and shock of the NHL. They finished eighth in the Western Conference and nosed out ninth-place Vancouver by three points, then drew Detroit in the first round, a Detroit team that won the President’s Trophy with 124 points, 29 more points than the Oilers' total.
The run began. The Oilers lost Game 1 to the Red Wings but won Games 2 and 3 and won the series in six games. It turned out to be a first round full of upsets in the Western Conference, as all four lower-seeded teams won, leading to a second round of No. 5 vs. No. 8 and No. 6 vs. No. 7.
Edmonton pulled its biggest shock in the second round against San Jose, as the Sharks won the first two games at home but the Oilers won Game 3 in overtime, then the next three games. In the conference finals, the Oilers won the first three games against No. 6 Anaheim and won the series in five games.
The Oilers’ run ended in the Finals against Carolina, the No. 2 seed from the East. The Oilers lost the first two games, then trailed the series 3-1. Edmonton won Games 5 and 6, but the Hurricanes won Game 7 at home. The run left its mark on Stoll, who was then at the end of his second full NHL season.
``In Canada, for myself it was close to where I grew up, so it was a lot of fun with family and friends that came to support me,’’ Stoll said. ``It was a wild ride, for sure. It wasn’t easy. We beat Detroit out, and then San Jose and Anaheim, and lost to Justin (Williams) in the Final. It was the best two months of your life. These two months right now are pretty good, too.’’
Greene knows how fleeting that feeling can be. The Oilers called up Greene, then 22 years old, during the 2005-06 season, and he had played only 27 NHL regular-season games before the playoff run. Greene appeared in 18 of the Oilers’ 24 games in that postseason.
``When you get there your rookie year, and then you don’t get there, or really even get a sniff of it, for another six, you realize how special it actually is, and how much actually has to go right for you to get in this situation,’’ Greene said. ``Right now, you just really want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to give yourself a chance to win here.’’
There aren’t a ton of similarities between the 2006 Oilers and this year’s Kings, other than Greene, Stoll and the teams’ seeding. The Kings beat the Western conference’s No. 1 (Vancouver), No. 2 (St. Louis) and No. 3 (Phoenix) seeds, but Greene said certain dynamics are similar for any team that reaches the Finals.
``It’s a lot different,’’ Greene said. ``There, it was a real underdog story. I don’t think anybody picked us to really do too well. Here, it’s different. We’ve been labeled underachieves for a lot of the year, and now guys got hot at the right time. There are a lot of similarities too. There, there was a lot of secondary scoring, which I think you need to get in order to get to the Finals. Our top players were our top players every night on that team, and they are on this team, too.
``I think there are similarities in that, but I think that’s what every team needs in order to get to the Finals, is to have good goaltending and have your top players be your best players every night.’’
At least for a while, Greene and Stoll will be the answer to a trivia question, as the only players to reach the Finals twice on a No. 8 seed. Stoll isn’t taking any time to reflect on his place in history.
``It doesn’t matter,’’ Stoll said. ``We’re not where we want to be yet. We have a lot of work to do. Today was a great day to get back on the ice and work hard and get focused again for what’s ahead. Me and Greenie have been together for a long time, so it’s good times.’’
Follow Rich Hammond on Twitter at @LAKingsInsider.