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Kings will lean on experience for Game 7 vs. Ducks

by Corey Masisak

LOS ANGELES -- Darryl Sutter isn't a big believer in many of the narratives that seem to be popular at this time of a hockey season.

Does home-ice advantage matter in a Game 7? Nope. In his mind, if there's a Game 7 it is because the teams are too close for it to matter.

Does momentum carry over from one Stanley Cup Playoff game to the next? Nope. He believes in momentum from shift-to-shift, but each game is its own entity.

Is a Game 7 different than other elimination games? Nope. Sutter feels every playoff game is of the elimination variety.

The Los Angeles Kings coach does believe in what he sees from players at this time of the season. He believes that experience matters, and the veterans he has have earned theirs.

Thirteen of the 19 Kings expected to be on the ice Friday in Game 7 against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS) played in every game of Los Angeles' march to the Stanley Cup in 2012. Three others played in at least 12 of the 18 playoff games last season.

It is an experienced group, one that will lean on that experience Friday.

"It's confidence. When you've done special things together, you have the confidence no matter what happens to do that again," center Mike Richards said. "That's a big thing in playoffs. When you're down in a game, down in the series, you've been through comebacks and good things with the guy beside you, it is a good thing to lean on. It's a nice feeling to have that you have confidence in being able to do whatever is needed to win."

The Kings are one win from reaching the Western Conference Final for a third consecutive season. This is the ninth playoff series with Sutter in charge, and the only one they've lost was to the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks last season when nearly half the roster was either injured or playing through an ailment.

Sutter took over midway through the 2011-12 season, and a few months later the Kings were Stanley Cup champs. That run was a surprise to many people because Los Angeles was the No. 8 seed, but the Western Conference was loaded (the Kings had 95 points), and they were one of the best teams in the League from near the NHL Trade Deadline to the end of the regular season.

Nothing that has come since has been surprising, even if Sutter wants his team to be considered underdogs because of Anaheim's regular-season record.

"I don't it know if [the team] changed after you win the Cup. I think you get to know them through the playoffs," Sutter said. "You get to know guys who thrive in situations or want the challenge. It's a tough hill to climb. Every game becomes tougher as the playoffs go along. That's what happens. It sorts out your leadership group. It sorts out where your young players are at.

"We continue to do that. That's what sort of ... out of place a bit [so far in 2014]. We put a lot of young guys. Everyone says, 'Well, you won the Cup three years ago,' We did but you're putting a lot of young guys in or playing them differently where you see if they can handle it or can't handle it. That's where you see ups and downs in their game."

The Kings are short two veteran defensemen, Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr. They will have to play a Game 7 away from home against a California rival for the second straight series after defeating the San Jose Sharks in the first round. They will have to win a sixth straight elimination game (the traditional definition, not Sutter's).

There is little difference in the overall quality of these two Southern California franchises. The regular-season series was tight. Each team has scored 13 goals in this series.

The players in the Los Angeles dressing room believe if there is a tiny edge to be gained from their previous experiences, that will be the difference for them.

"When you've been to the top of the mountain, you have that inner arrogance that you know what it takes to win," forward Justin Williams said. "That's something not a lot of teams have. That's something we need to harness [Friday]."

There can be a robotic quality to how the Kings prefer to play. There's rarely a lot of emotion when players are speaking to the media. Athletes and coaches talk about wanting to not get too high or too low all the time, but that just seems to come naturally for the Kings.

It's the way coach coaches and the leadership group leads. It's a symbiotic relationship, and it forms an identity for the team, even if they don't need to talk about it all the time.

"We get each other. It goes both ways, the communication," center Jarret Stoll said of the relationship with Sutter. "Just knowing what he expects of us. He can be hard. He can be both ways. But we know what he expects and what he needs us to bring. We also know that amongst the group and amongst teammates and friends and best friends. And we trust each other a lot. We've been through a lot. We've said that before. A lot of teams have. A lot of teams have their group together for a while.

"But when you win together and you've been through huge games together, I think that elevates it a little more. You can lean on guys and you know what to expect. I know what to expect from all my teammates tomorrow night and I'm sure they all know what to expect from me and I'm sure that's a good thing to have happen."

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