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Kings confident heading into Game 7 vs. Sharks

by Curtis Zupke

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Anze Kopitar never has played a Game 7 in the NHL. He's among a group of young Los Angeles Kings who developed in the organization long after the franchise's prior Game 7, back in 2002.

But Kopitar played many Game 7s in his head when he grew up in Slovenia and dreamed of a stage like Tuesday, when the Kings will play the San Jose Sharks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals at Staples Center (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS).

"I got blood under my skin just like a Canadian," Kopitar said Monday. "I don't think it's any different over in Europe either. Everybody wants to be in these types of games, and you want to raise the level of play and eventually you want to be the hero in these types of games. It's going to take a great effort [Tuesday], and we're looking forward to it."

The Kings sounded like a confident group a day after a 2-1 loss in Game 6, their fifth loss in six road games in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That confidence comes from having experienced the highs of winning the Stanley Cup last year, as well as the grind of past playoff runs, including a loss to the Sharks in the first round in 2011.

"You always remember what it feels like to lose," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "You almost have to lose before you learn how to win. It's a motivating factor. When you have that feeling, it stays with you, and vice versa. After what we did last year, I always say you don't really know what you're playing for until you've won it."

This year's run has seen the Kings average 2.00 goals per game, down from the 2.85 they averaged winning the Cup last year. They were able to erase a 2-0 series deficit against the St. Louis Blues in the quarterfinals and could have been down 3-1 against San Jose.

"We're pretty comfortable in here," Brown said. "We've been in situations that have been very difficult. I mean, you look at Game 5 against St. Louis. We were down 2-0 five minutes into the game. It's how you respond to the adversity that really shows who you are, as an individual and as a team."

Brown is among those Kings who developed in the organization after the 2004-05 lockout. The franchise has not won a Game 7 since Wayne Gretzky turned in perhaps his greatest playoff performance in leading the Kings to victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs the 1993 conference finals.

But to say the Kings lack Game 7 experience is not accurate.

Mike Richards is 3-0 in Game 7s from his time with the Philadelphia Flyers, including 2010, when the Flyers erased a 3-0 series deficit in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Bruins to reach a Game 7, then recovered from a 3-0 first-period deficit to win.

Justin Williams won two Game 7s during the Carolina Hurricanes' Stanley Cup run in 2006, including the Final. Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll were on the losing side in that game, for the Edmonton Oilers.

Robyn Regehr's Calgary Flames lost to San Jose in Game 7 of a 2008 conference quarterfinal series and to the Anaheim Ducks in the 2006 quarterfinals. Rob Scuderi won two Game 7s with the Pittsburgh Penguins on the way to the Cup in 2009.

"You've also got guys that have played in an Olympic gold-medal game, which is probably the equivalent of a Game 7," Brown said in reference to himself, Richards and Drew Doughty, who played in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. "Guys have experience in big games. You look at a group of our guys [who] have won world juniors ... those final games in those world juniors and world championships and Olympics, those are Game 7s. It's a matter of using that experience and trying to get yourself ready."

The home team has won every game of this series, and the Kings will put a franchise-record 13-game home winning streak on the line. It has outscored opponents 36-17 during the streak.

"I don't know what the reason is, but we're going to have to do it on the road eventually," Kopitar said.

Kopitar was 2 years old when the Kings last were host for a Game 7, in 1989, when their home was the Great Western Forum. A few years later the local pond/Game 7 scenarios would dance through his head.

Who did Kopitar imagine he was back then?

"I just want to be like my old man [Matjaz]," Kopitar said. "He had a couple of good Game 7s when he was playing for the [Slovenian] national title."

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