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Kopitar, Doughty see rested Kings making another run

by Tim Wharnsby

TORONTO -- For many, summertime is about the three Rs: rest, relax and recharge.

But for Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings, the only R-word associated with their past few summers was "rush," as in rush to enjoy it and rush to get in shape for the upcoming NHL season.

That was because the Kings played in a League-high 64 postseason games between 2012 and 2014, winning 10 of 11 series and the Stanley Cup twice. But that incredible run hit a rut in the ice last season, when they became the first defending champion to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the Carolina Hurricanes in 2007.

It was a painful experience for the Kings, but after the hurt subsided Kopitar and Doughty admitted it was nice to have a long summer for a change.

"It felt good, even though it stinks to miss the playoffs," Kopitar said. "We kind of needed that to recharge and get away for a little longer period of time. You always feel like you're in a rush to get ready. Not this time.

"The sour taste from missing the playoffs is what drives us to do some damage this year."

Kopitar, 28, is entering the final year of his seven-year contract. The two sides remain far apart on a new deal, but Kopitar appears optimistic he will remain in Los Angeles.

Ideally, he would like to sign a contract before the season begins, but he wasn't worried if the two sides continue to talk beyond that point.

Kopitar and Doughty are confident this is a season the Kings will return as one of the championship contenders.

"Not making the playoffs was not enjoyable, but once the season was over I'm the type that can get over the past rather quickly," Doughty said.

"I definitely enjoyed my summer. I made a point of that. But also when I got back in the gym and on the ice I made it a point to get in the best shape of my life."

Doughty had three months in the gym to get ready instead of six weeks. He also had his girlfriend in charge of his meals, making sure he ate healthy.

It was a strange feeling for players like Doughty, who went home to spend his summer in London, Ontario, and Kopitar, who returned to Slovenia, to be back so soon and not part of the playoffs.

Because of the time difference Kopitar watched one game, when he awoke to see the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks battling in the third overtime period in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final.

Doughty didn't check in on the playoffs until the Stanley Cup Final.

The Kings were officially eliminated from playoff contention on April 9 with a 3-1 loss at the Calgary Flames. But they managed to finish 40-27-15, the identical record they needed to finish eighth in the Western Conference in 2011-12, when they took 3-0 leads in all four of their playoff series en route to the organization's first Stanley Cup championship.

This Kings team, however, lacked consistency. When they locked out coach Darryl Sutter in early February for a players' only meeting after a three-game losing streak, they reeled off an eight-game winning streak but then finished with a mediocre 10-9-3 run.

"The will and urgency were there," Kopitar said. "I just think we ran out of gas a little bit at the end. We just had too many ups and downs. We lost four or five games in a row too many times. That's too difficult to overcome."

"We left it too little, too late," Doughty said. "I know we've done it in the past, but this League is too good, too competitive. We need a better start.

"We're definitely motivated. It was embarrassing for a lot of us not to make the playoffs. We felt we had a good team. We have some new faces that will make us a better team."

The newcomers are forward Milan Lucic and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, but the Kings also lost players like forward Justin Williams to the Washington Capitals and goaltender Martin Jones to the Boston Bruins, as well as centers Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll and defenseman Slava Voynov.

Still, Lucic and Ehrhoff are two players with Cup Final experience. In fact, Lucic and the Bruins defeated Ehrhoff and the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Final.

When Kopitar arrived for training camp, he found himself on a line with Lucic and Marian Gaborik.

"[Lucic] should be fun to play with," Kopitar said. "I certainly believe we have a team that will contend."

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