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Preparation, fast starts help Kings avoid rust

by Dave Lozo

NEWARK, N.J. -- When the Los Angeles Kings take the ice at Prudential Center on Wednesday night in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS), it will be their first game since wrapping up the Western Conference Final on May 22.

The Kings will have gone seven days between games, an eternity by hockey playoff standards, but it's also nothing new for them.

Rest and relaxation have become staples of the Kings' schedule this postseason, a result of winning two series in five games and sweeping another. The Kings had five days between games after beating the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, six days between games following a second-round sweep of the St. Louis Blues and now seven days off between eliminating the Coyotes in the conference final and starting the Final against the New Jersey Devils.

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"That has a lot to do with coaching and a lot do with leadership," Kings forward Dustin Penner said Wednesday morning after a full practice. "Every leader on every team says the right things. On our team, we do it. There might be a couple other things, but those are two things that stick out in my mind, just because some teams let that affect them, but we've stayed focused."

Not only have the Kings responded from the extended layoffs with Game 1 victories in the next two series, they have won the first three games of every series this postseason. Defenseman Matt Greene credits the lack of rust with how coach Darryl Sutter has mixed up routines in the days after each series victory.

"It's just changing up practice schedules," Greene said. "They've done a good job of giving us time off to allow us to regroup a little bit, then give us some hard practices and keeping us ready to go. If you get a little extra time off, he's not about keeping us on the ice all the time. I think that's a big thing right there, just giving the guys enough time off."

The extra rest has been especially beneficial for a pair of veteran defenseman -- Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi.

Mitchell, 35, and Scuderi, 33, log the second- and third-most ice time among defensemen on the Kings and play a brand of defense that can wear down the body. Neither is among the leaders in hits, but Mitchell has 45 blocked shots in 14 games while Scuderi has 21. To Sutter, giving those players time to heal has made a big difference in this Stanley Cup run.

"We've managed our time well," Sutter said. "As the series go along, there are players who definitely need days away and days off. It's not just the physical part of it because guys are banged up -- it's the mental part of it. It's really helped our two or three older players, specifically Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi."

While the Kings have used the rest of their advantage in the postseason, history shows that teams entering the Cup Final with a big break have not fared very well. The past four teams to enter the Final dating to 2001 with at least seven days between games have failed to win the Cup.

* Last year, the Canucks had seven days between games and lost in seven games to the Boston Bruins. The rust didn't show early, however, as the Canucks won the first two games of the series.

When the Kings take the ice in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, it will be their first game since wrapping up the Western Conference Final on May 22. (Photo: Getty Images)

* In 2007, the Ottawa Senators stormed through the Eastern Conference finals and had eight days between games. They lost the Final in five games to the Anaheim Ducks.

* In 2006, the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers had eight days between games and dropped the first two games of the Final to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Oilers pushed the series to seven games before losing.

* In 2003, it was the Ducks who had the long break, with 10 days between games. They lost the first two games of the Final before losing in seven games to the Devils.

Only last year's Canucks team wasn't immediately affected by the break, and Devils coach Peter DeBoer, whose team had four days off between beating the Rangers and Game 1 of the Final, didn't mind the fact the Flyers had six days off before facing the Devils in the second round despite Philadelphia rallying to win in overtime in Game 1.

"It gave us an advantage against Philly, I thought, in Game 1," DeBoer said. "I thought we were the sharper team to start that game, even though we lost. We ended up losing that game, ran out of gas. You know, I thought that we were the sharper team in Game 1 probably due to the long layoff they had. At the same time it depends how you handle the layoff. I'm sure they're going to be very aware of not being stale.

"Knowing Darryl, I don't expect they'll have any rust on them."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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