Los Angeles Kings\' Mike Richards (10) shouts in celebration as teammates Jeff Carter (77), Willie Mitchell (33), Jarret Stoll (28), Alec Martinez (27), and Colin Fraser (24) converge on Dustin Penner (25), who scored the game-winner against the Phoenix Coyotes in overtime during Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference finals Tuesday, May 22, 2012, in Glendale, Ariz. The Kings defeated the Coyotes 4-3, and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - Justin Williams remembers every game of the Carolina Hurricanes' 25-game grind through the 2006 playoffs. He knows all about the blood, sweat and exhaustion necessary to raise the Stanley Cup.
That's why he realizes the NHL playoffs aren't usually as easy as the Los Angeles Kings have made them look so far. Although Williams and his teammates have prepared for lengthy series in every round of the post-season, but they haven't even had to play a Game 6 yet.
"If you told anybody, let alone us in the dressing room, that we'd have a place in the finals as an eight seed, I would have only told you that you were crazy if you said it took 14 games," Williams said.
"But we're here for a reason," he added. "We've battled our tails off here the whole season, and things have come together here. We go into every series thinking it's going to be seven (games). It's just so far, they haven't worked out that way."
Los Angeles went on a 12-2 rampage through the Western Conference playoffs, earning a date with the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup final. Game 1 is Wednesday in Newark.
The Kings' surge is a novel experience for everybody, including Williams and two teammates who faced him in the 2006 Cup final. Williams scored the final goal of Game 7 for the Carolina Hurricanes, beating Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene and the rest of the Edmonton Oilers—the only eighth seed to make the final round before Los Angeles.
Stoll remembers the shock and elation of that 24-game run by the unheralded Oilers, only to be crushed by a loss in Game 7.
"It was a great ride, but the ending leaves a sour taste if you don't win," said Stoll, who scored in overtime last month in the Kings' series-ending win over President's Trophy-winning Vancouver. "When you're going through it, you realize that you don't know if you'll ever get that opportunity again. Some guys play their whole careers and don't get the chance to do what we're doing now, so I'm definitely grateful to be there again."
Greene also picked up that perspective as a 22-year-old Oilers rookie, playing in 18 post-season games during their run. Greene realizes those Oilers and the current Kings don't share much except their seed: Edmonton's run was a stunner during a season in which the Western Conference's top four seeds all lost their first-round series, while Los Angeles was an underachiever that finally realized its enormous potential while knocking off the West's top three seeds.
"I think a lot of people felt we had the potential to do it this year, where those (Edmonton) playoffs were a surprise," said Greene, the stay-at-home defenceman whose steadying influence has been enormous for the Kings.
The Kings had their second full practice Saturday since eliminating Phoenix, going through mostly team drills and beginning preparations for the Devils. Los Angeles lost both of its regular-season meetings with New Jersey, but both games were very early in the season.
The Kings aren't apologizing for their success, and they don't believe their relatively clean run through the first three rounds will hurt them in the finale. Los Angeles hasn't faced much adversity so far, yet the Kings have won two pressure-packed overtime road games to finish off series against Vancouver and Phoenix.
"We've been very fortunate to be on top of our game, play well, and finish teams off when we had the chance," Williams said. "As a result, we're getting a ton of rest, and it's clearly going to be beneficial for us."