LA Kings make long-awaited playoff breakthrough
By GREG BEACHAM
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Jarret Stoll realizes his series-winning overtime goal at Vancouver is among the biggest moments in Los Angeles Kings history.
That's not ego talking, either. The veteran forward has simply been around Los Angeles long enough to realize just how few defining moments this franchise has enjoyed, particularly in the last two decades or so.
"You've got to have pride in the organization, and care what the organization represents, and the history behind it," Stoll said Monday after the Kings returned home from their first playoff series victory since 2001, dramatically finishing off the Canucks in five games.
"You see Adam Deadmarsh's (series-winning) goal against Detroit (in 2001) all the time, how important it was at the time," Stoll said. "Us as a group, we want to make our own history, our own storylines, and follow through with a really great team and don't let this chance slip away."
Deadmarsh's thrilling overtime goal was the Kings' best moment of the 21st century until Stoll capped a dominant series with a slick wrist shot past Cory Schneider. After squeaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the West, Los Angeles dominated the NHL's best regular-season team and earned a matchup with second-seeded St. Louis.
"The whole `8 versus 1,' we never talked about that once," Stoll said. "That was the regular season, and we know we underachieved a little bit in the regular season. We know we're a good team, and we knew we could beat Vancouver. They were the No. 1 seed and the Presidents' Trophy winner, but that doesn't mean anything in the playoffs."
The Kings had lost in the first round in two straight seasons after an eight-year postseason absence, but they've finally achieved something commensurate to their potential after a seven-month struggle to find their game. Their midseason woes cost coach Terry Murray his job, but the lowest-scoring team to make the postseason kept moving right through the Canucks.
Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter doesn't want his players to forget what they accomplished against Vancouver. Although he took over the club shortly before Christmas, the veteran NHL hand is aware of the Kings' monumental struggles for success and consistency, particularly with the young collection of talent on his current roster.
"That's an awesome thing for these guys, to win a playoff series," Sutter said. "A lot of them had never played in one. A lot of them had never won one, so that's awesome. That's the reason you don't forget about it, but the only thing you have to be careful of in winning is not to forget how you win."
Los Angeles allowed Vancouver to score just eight goals in five games, and All-Star goalie Jonathan Quick's incredible season suggests the Kings can keep it close against anybody. They'll meet their defensive equals when they face the Blues - two of the NHL's Second Six franchises that have never lifted the Stanley Cup.
Stoll is among the few Kings with extensive playoff experience after reaching the Cup finals with Edmonton in 2006. Although the Kings' homegrown core is still young, newcomers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter also have Cup finals experience, and the veterans already spent the plane ride home from Canada discussing how to get back to work against St. Louis.
"We realize there's a lot of work ahead of us still, but it feels great," Stoll said. "So many guys haven't won a playoff series before on our team, and the organization not winning one in the past 11 years, it's pretty special."
Stoll only had about 140 text messages on his phone after scoring the series-winning goal, but if the Kings' long-suffering fans had his number, he would have been buried under an avalanche of gratitude and goodwill. Wayne Gretzky led Los Angeles to its only Stanley Cup finals in 1993, and the team hasn't challenged for a championship since.
That hunger was reflected by the fans waiting to greet the Kings at the airport after their first playoff triumph in 11 years.
"That's part of the reward, too," Sutter said. "When you win a playoff game or you win a series, it's just as important for young fans or for people that have followed the team for a long time and supported them. They feel part of it, and that's good, always good."
Updated April 23, 2012