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Kings get back to work; await Stanley Cup opponent

by Curtis Zupke

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – The Los Angeles Kings hadn't faced the Phoenix Coyotes for three months when they squared off in the Western Conference Finals, but there was some familiarity with their Pacific Division foe.

Los Angeles will now face either the New York Rangers or New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final, teams it last played in October.

How long ago was that?

The Kings played the Rangers on Opening Night in Stockholm and got a 3-2 victory on an overtime goal by now-traded defenseman Jack Johnson.  The Kings lineup that night including Simon Gagne, Scott Parse, Trent Hunter and Ethan Moreau – players who are either no longer in the organization or haven't played since December.


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Los Angeles last saw the Devils twice in a 12-day span in October, the last one a 3-0 loss on Oct. 25 in which former coach Terry Murray started Jonathan Bernier in goal even though Jonathan Quick was coming off three straight shutouts.

"It seemed like a long time ago," defenseman Matt Greene said. "Europe seems like it was five years ago. It's been a while. I mean, both teams are a lot different, certainly with who they have in their lineup and just in terms of the style of games that they're playing. I'm sure a lot's changed for them, as it has for us since October."

Game film from those meetings is practically useless, but modern-day scouting compensates for a lot of unfamiliarity.

"We haven't played against them, but familiarity?" captain Dustin Brown said. "We've got video and video and more video. It's one of those things where it's different when you're on the ice playing them, but we'll have a good idea of what they're trying to do."

Coach Darryl Sutter said he had no anxiety about not knowing their next opponent. Sutter is big on preparation and travel schedule but, of course, the latter will remain the same regardless if they're starting in Newark or New York.

"We know the schedule and we know we're playing one of the two best teams in the Eastern Conference," Sutter said. "It's pretty clear."

But veteran Willie Mitchell acknowledged that "it would be really nice to know when we have an opponent because you can kind of get your mind set in a right place, know who you're playing, start to prepare a little bit more. I'm not really concerned, but it would be nice when that series is done just for our own preparation."

Friday was the first day for the Kings back on the ice after two off days. Los Angeles doesn't have anyone out of the lineup because of injury but that doesn't mean they don't have players who are hurting.

Sutter is naturally concerned about getting back into sync.

"The risk is the two full days off," he said. "You talk to the players about it first, because it's the bigger guys, always, and the older guys that go two full days without skating. Quite honest, there's a handful of them that needed it, just because the farther you go … it's more taxing. Today is really, from a body standpoint and a machine-standpoint, today is the toughest day for getting it going again."

Sutter isn't worried about goalie Jonathan Quick not seeing game-type action for almost a week. Quick and his teammates wore smiles during the Kings' skate as the enthusiasm was evident among veterans and young players.

"I just remember putting my skates on before practice today here," Quick said. "Everybody's just really excited. Everybody can't wait to play, can't wait to get going. I think the biggest thing is controlling that and understanding that we do have a few days here. That's the one advantage we have over whoever we're going to play."

Quick said he will watch Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals intently.

"I'm playing in it but I'm also a fan of the whole thing that's going on right now," Quick said. "It's an exciting time of the year for hockey."

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