Kings sound desperate to hold Stanley Cup again after winning Game 7 thriller over Sharks

Kings sound desperate to hold Stanley Cup again after winning Game 7 thriller over Sharks
Kings sound desperate to hold Stanley Cup again after winning Game 7 thriller over Sharks

LOS ANGELES – Dustin Brown sat in the locker room, pads still on, teeth still out, sweat still dripping down his face, when he pondered where it all turned around for the Los Angeles Kings.

They were an eight seed in last year's playoffs, yet waltzed straight on through the Stanley Cup playoffs without ever facing an elimination game in what amounted to one of the more dominant postseason runs in NHL history. And now here they are again, having survived a grueling 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks in Game 7 of the conference semifinals on Tuesday night.

How did the Kings get from there – the lowest seed ever to win a Stanley Cup – to here, on a path to win back-to-back titles?

Two things.

"First, sometimes you have to lose before you can win," Brown said. 

And the second?

"I didn't know this until June 12 last year," he explained. "Those previous years, when we got knocked out by Vancouver and San Jose, I didn't truly know what I just lost out on. And that's just a different perspective after you win. You understand what you're playing for, and that's a huge motivating factor for the guys in here."

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To grasp the Cup, to experience that feeling of euphoria again – that's become his drive to win, the team's drive.

They want more, and Tuesday night Justin Williams and Jonathan Quick fed the hunger. Williams did it with a pair of goals in the second period, turning a scoreless nail biter into a potential Kings rout. Quick, the MVP of last year's postseason, did it with yet another sterling performance in net, turning away 25 of 26 shots, including a point-blank, potential game-tying wrister from Joe Pavelski that Quick, laying flat on his back, grabbed with a flailing glove.

It was a win that had all the hallmarks of last year's championship run: just enough offense, plenty of Quick and a dash of luck.

Yet this squad, made up of most of the same players, is different. They're no longer a rag-tag group of underachievers floating through a regular season with the relatively low expectation of just getting to the postseason. It's Stanley Cup or bust now, and whether they next square off against the Chicago Blackhawks or Detroit Red Wings, who face their own Game 7 on Wednesday night, these Kings will be the battle tested ones.

Williams scored twice despite playing without Brown on the wing, as the captain dropped down to the third line to fill in for the concussed Jarret Stoll.

This is a team that lost seven (including two overtime defeats) of its first 10 games this season, plus its first two in the postseason. It's one that's experienced losing in the playoffs in 2010 and 2011, had to scratch its way just to get into the postseason last year only to become the first eight seed to win the Stanley Cup.

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In eleven months, this franchise has gone from the longest (along with the St. Louis Blues) never to have won a Stanley Cup to one capable of becoming the first back-to-back champions since Steve Yzerman's Red Wings did it in '97-'98. The last back-to-back champions before that were Mario Lemieux's Penguins. And before that, Wayne Gretzky's Oilers.

There's still a long way between now and then, and Brown is reluctant to pick a favored next opponent, even if drawing the Red Wings means the Kings gain home-ice advantage. Yet he's not afraid to talk about the goal – even if it's still eight wins away – and what it would mean to fall short.

"You don't know what you've lost until you've won it. You don't understand the magnitude of it all," he said. "For the rest of my career, when we get eliminated from the playoffs, it's going to be a different feeling."

One he knows he'll experience again, but hopes he never does.

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