The attention generated by the Los Angeles Kings can be felt in the home of captain Dustin Brown. Or maybe smelt is a better word.
Right Wing - LAK
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 11
SOG: 31 | +/-: 9
Brown has three young children, and while they might not fully comprehend the history their father is helping to make, they're unabashed fans of dad bashing the competition.
"They're pretty excited," Brown said. "My middle son has worn his L.A. Kings jersey for two weeks now. He hasn't taken it off. He wore it to school today for like, the 15th day in a row. They're definitely excited."
L.A. has a lot of light on it in a city where that glare is fleeting and typically reserved for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Kings advanced to the Western Conference Finals with a series sweep of the St. Louis Blues on Sunday. Staples Center was a loud as it has ever been for hockey, and the Kings and their fans want to keep that going in the team's deepest playoff run since the Wayne Gretzky-led team of 1993 that eventually lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final.
Like Tom Petty sang, the waiting is the hardest part, though. The Kings will likely have more than five days before the conference finals get under way. The Phoenix Coyotes took a 3-1 series lead on the Nashville Predators in to Monday, but the schedule for the next round might not be set until the Eastern Conference completes its second round.
The Kings looked forward to a break. Even though they have gone through the opposition in swift fashion – a five-game series elimination of the Vancouver Canucks and the sweep of St. Louis – the intensity and grind is taxing.
"I think physically and mentally, it's pretty good [to get a break]," Brown said. "Probably more the mental side of things. You get to this point of the year and physically you can find a way to get yourself going. But I think mentally you're in a high stress, high pressure situation, day in and day out. Just to have a day to not really think about hockey or being under the pressure that comes with being in the playoffs -- it's nice just to get away from the game for a day or two."
BLUES VS. KINGS
Heart and soul of L.A.
By Curtis Zupke - NHL.com Correspondent
Dustin Brown is literally the face of the Los Angeles Kings, scarred and bruised by his physical style and hungry to end decades of organizational failure. READ MORE ›
"Me and Dustin talked about it last night after the game. We thought it would be a good chance to re-group mentally as well as physically," Kings forward Dustin Penner said. "But more important, that mental aspect because [it's] that grind in the stretch you go through on a daily basis and focusing in on the task at hand."
Brown and a lot of other teammates haven't played this deep into the season, and how they will react to the challenge might be the only question mark going into the final four. Penner won the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, Rob Scuderi with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 and Colin Fraser with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter went to the Finals with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 and Jarret Stoll with the Edmonton Oilers in 2006.
Stoll will now have played on two of the three eighth-seeded teams to advance to the conference finals. Montreal also achieved the feat two seasons ago.
But for others like Brown, this is new territory. Brown sounded confident that they can approach it smartly.
"A lot of this feeling good this time of year is a lot of what you do during the summer getting yourself ready to play and 82-game season and beyond," he said. "The other side of it is taking care of yourself off the ice on the day to day, and that's something that I think everyone is pretty good at this level – getting the proper rest and just eating right and just doing the little things right at this time of year."
St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock declared the Kings to be the Stanley Cup favorites, and it's clear that there is a target on their back moving forward. Both Phoenix and Nashville will present their own challenges, but travel won't be one if it's the Coyotes.
Brown and Penner admitted that an hour flight wouldn't hurt, although the Kings are 5-0 on the road in the postseason so travel wouldn't seem to factor.
"I think it's pretty obvious that Phoenix would be a better team from a travel standpoint," Brown said. "At the end of the day, whether we play Phoenix or Nashville -- whatever team we end up playing -- they're there for a reason. I think matchups go out the window at this time of year. It's who's willing to do more."
Penner likened it to a "pick your poison" outlook in facing either team.
Penner knows what it's like to get everybody's best shot. That 2007 Ducks' team was specifically built by then general manager Brian Burke to make a run at a Cup and they lived up to expectations from the start.
L.A., on the other hand, struggled for most of the season and came together from February forward. But Penner said this has the same feeling.
"I see a lot of similarities between the Ducks' run and this run we're currently on," Penner said. "There's still eight more wins to go, but he mentality of the team and the focus and intensity we have each shift, each game. In practice, the way we're moving the puck, it's breeding confidence. I think that's a byproduct of our success. We've all bought in and you can tell by the way we carry ourselves as a team on a daily basis and an individual."