NEWARK -- A year ago at this time, New Jersey Devils forward Petr Sykora was finished playing in his second straight World Championships for the Czech Republic. This was at the end of a busy two seasons where he played for the Minnesota Wild, HC Plzen of the Czech Extraliga and Dynamo Minsk of the KHL.
Sykora found his was back to the NHL in September earning a tryout with the Devils, who he was drafted by in 1995 and played until 2002, winning two Stanley Cups along the way. At 35, Sykora felt he still had enough to give to be a productive player at the NHL level and it showed this season as he finished with 21 goals and 44 points.
"If I didn't feel like that I would [have] never come here," Sykora said. "I felt that all I needed was to get was a chance. Sometimes it's about getting a chance and getting to play with the right people and have support from the coaching staff. I got all of that [here], so it's easier to be successful."
This is Sykora's sixth trip to the Cup Final and despite the vast experience of the two-month journey to get to this point in the season, it never gets easier.
"It's always a grind," he said. "Some different challenges at different times, but it's special to be here. Some people don't get here once, I'm here for sixth time, so I'm very happy."
Sykora is a free agent on July 1 and he says he wants to continue playing. Whether or not that's with the Devils again is up in the air at the moment, but his priority is to stay in the NHL. Despite stints with five other teams, the Devils are the one he's known best throughout his career; a career that's seen a lot of winning, specifically with New Jersey, an organization that's been consistent at that for a long time now.
"It's the whole structure. It's starts with Lou [Lamoriello]," said Sykora of the Devils' consistency. "It's just a little different here than other teams and it suits me personally. There's no surprises for me. I know what I have to do. Here when you show up you have a desire to win and you work hard. You're going to get rewarded with a lot of things. That's how it's supposed to be and that's how I feel comfortable."
Like Sykora, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi isn't a stranger to the Stanley Cup Final. Having gone back-to-back years with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008 and 2009 and earning a ring during the latter trip, he's learned from those experiences and passed it down to the younger members of the Kings. Falling down 2-0 in consecutive years to the Detroit Red Wings in the Final taught him that the series is a first to four wins and not allow any early deficits to discourage the team in one games.
The Kings have surprised everyone not just for reaching this point, but for how they've arrived here. Dispatching the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in five games, then a very strong St. Louis Blues team in a sweep followed by five games over the Phoenix Coyotes, Los Angeles has gotten stronger as the playoffs as evolved.
Despite the hoopla surrounding the Cup Final and the increased media, Scuderi says the Kings won't change what they've been doing since they opened things on the road against the Canucks.
"In my mind, I know it's the Stanley Cup Finals and there's only two teams left, but we were playing for the Stanley Cup in Game 1 versus Vancouver," he said. "We're trying to play the same game. The stakes are just as high then than they are now. I don't think our game changes much. Maybe it a bit of a spectacle, but I don't think it's very hard to get zeroed in."
It's been a season of punchlines for Dustin Penner of the Los Angeles Kings. While the first part of the year it was him as the subject of the jokes with his poor start and bloated contract, not to mention the pancakes thing, but in the playoffs it's been Penner delivering the one-liners and turning media scrums and press conferences into his own open mic night.
When asked about the fashion choice of Jonathan Quick during Media Day -- that being a Kings hat with a hoodie over his head -- Penner quipped that the Kings' netminder was just channeling his inner Eminem.
Penner said that humor runs in the family starting with his mom and dad. "A lot of it has to do with genetics. I've grown up with a lot of laughter in the household."
The funniest Penner relative might be his cousin, who's sent him some zingers via texts during the playoffs.
"He calls me Claude Lemieux."
"Because I'm doing now in the playoffs what I should have done during the regular season."
If you can't laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?
"I was rooting against Marty then (smiling). You know, obviously it's pretty cool playing against him." - Connecticut-born Jonathan Quick on rooting for the New York Rangers in 1994.
"I think we've overcome a lot of adversity already. We took on the Western Conference first place, second place, third place team. That's no easy task. Maybe because we did make it happen so quick, only losing two games so far, it looks easy. But it wasn't easy. We played our hearts out. Every single guy played for the other guy beside them. It was a tough task to overcome. So I don't think it's been easy for us." - Drew Doughty talking about the Kings' journey to the Final.
"That's the last thing we're thinking about, is going undefeated on the road. The main thing is Game 1 here. When we get on the road, we're real comfortable. There's no distractions, nothing going on. It's been going good for us." - Jeff Carter on the Kings trying to keep their unblemised playoff road record alive.
"I love Richy. You know, we won together. He grew up in the organization I was running. He's a great kid. He's one of those guys you want in the foxhole with you if you're going to war. " - Devils head coach Peter DeBoer on Mike Richards, who he coached in junior hockey with the Kitchener Rangers.
"You like to think every team you ever have has a chance. I don't think we ever did until halfway through the year. " - Devils GM Lou Lamoriello on his whether or not he believed earlier in the season that his team would be playing for the Cup.
"Maybe he can play 30-40 games. I think he can do it." - Petr Sykora on whether or not Dominik Hasek could make a reported comeback at age 47.
"I didn't watch Game 7. We had an option whether we wanted to come back in and watch the game or keep fishing. We decided to keep fishing." - Devils captain Zach Parise on whether or not he watched Game 7 of the Final last year.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy