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Kings happy with rare home-ice advantage

by Curtis Zupke

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The sexy Southern California matchup dissipated into the warm air here, but the Los Angeles Kings still will have their hands full with an in-state divisional rival.

The Kings gathered at their practice facility with an opponent and a date: Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the San Jose Sharks is Tuesday at Staples Center.

The alternative would have been playing an epic inaugural Stanley Cup Playoff series against the rival Anaheim Ducks.

"I would have liked to have played the Ducks," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "I think we match up well with them, and it would have been good for California to have that rivalry because everyone kind of makes that rivalry so big around California. But to us, we haven't really had to battle with them like a playoff series so I think a playoff series would have made that rivalry a lot deeper."

Had that series happened, it would have been the 16th straight time the Kings would have started a series on the road. Remarkably, this is the first time since 1992 that the Kings have home-ice advantage in the postseason. Of course they'll take it.

"It's huge to have home ice," Doughty said. "We get to be at home here, have our home-cooked meals, sleep in our own beds. It's just awesome. Obviously we're playing in front of our own fans, which is a bonus. St. Louis, in that first series, fed off their own fans in those first two games. I think that's a main reason they won those two. We have to do the same thing. We got to use that energy and make San Jose not want to play in our rink."

This will be the fourth all-California series. The Kings played the Oakland Seals in 1969 and the Sharks in 2011. Anaheim played San Jose in 2009. San Jose eliminated L.A. in six games in 2011.

"But it wasn't a very nasty series two years ago," captain Dustin Brown said. "The deeper in the playoffs you go, the more intense it gets. It should be a fun series."

Los Angeles has a considerable more offensive opponent than the St. Louis Blues. San Jose has much more skill up front with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Martin Havlat, if healthy.

"They're balanced up front," coach Darryl Sutter said. "They moved lines, guys around. [Brent] Burns really complemented [Thornton] and Patrick and Couture and you go to Pavelski and [Tommy] Wingels, and with [Raffi] Torres coming in, it gives them a good balance on their lines. They'll say it, too -- it's impacted their team. It's made them play more of a straight-line game."

Sutter pointed to the consistency of Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi, a Vezina Trophy finalist, and he likes San Jose's veteran presence on the back end of the defense with Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Burns' move to forward from defense should give Kings' defense all it can handle. Burns had two goals and six assists in four games against the Kings this season, the most he recorded against any opponent.

"He has a big body," Brown said. "He can skate really well. He's had an impact in every game that we've played them. Again, you don't know how it will impact a team overall, but against us, he's been very effective. He's one of those guys you got to be hard on. He's a big, strong guy, but you got to make it difficult for him."

A stickler for routine, Sutter likes having the home-ice advantage. He constantly cited it last season as something that effected preparation, but L.A. won't have that in the way this time, especially with an hour-flight to San Jose for Games 3 and 4.

Asked about getting home ice for the first time in 21 years, Sutter joked, "First time since I've been here, so it's not that long."

He later added that, "It does make a difference. Even watching the Anaheim-Detroit game [Sunday] -- quite honest, you're pulling for the team in our time zone."

Here is how the team set up its lines and defense pairings in practice Monday:

Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams

Dwight King - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter

Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis

Jordan Nolan - Colin Fraser - Tyler Toffoli

Robyn Regehr - Drew Doughty

Jake Muzzin - Slava Voynov

Alec Martinez - Rob Scuderi

Matt Greene - Keaton Ellerby

Jonathan Quick

Jonathan Bernier

Notes: Kyle Clifford did not skate for the second straight day and it appears unlikely that he will be available for at least Game 1. Sutter has not disclosed his injury.

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