EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – The Los Angeles Kings hit the fast-forward button through the first three rounds of the playoffs, becoming the seventh team since the league expanded its postseason format in 1987 to advance to the Stanley Cup finals in just 14 games.
One of the biggest carrots that comes with the 12-2 surge is plenty of rest and recovery from one series to the next.
Two days after the Kings eliminated the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 5 of their Western Conference final, most of the players were able to take another day off the ice Thursday.
Before the Stanley Cup finals begin May 30 in New York or New Jersey, the Kings will have had seven full days to get their legs refreshed, allow their bumps and bruises to heel and build some intelligence on their next opponent.
This comes after they enjoyed five days between games following their opening-round victory against the Vancouver Canucks, and six days to recuperate after their second-round sweep of the St. Louis Blues.
“What’s happened for this team, for now and forever, it’ll probably never happen again,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said of the playoff spacing.
Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell, the oldest player on the team at age 35, said the extra rest is a welcome reward for the team’s speedy run through the playoffs.
“It’s really nice,” he said. “Obviously, the wear and tear of competing at this time of year, it’s another level. … The checks that are made, the checks you’ve got to take and just the games are [played] at such a high level. It’s big. It allows the aches and pains we have, and the nicks, a little more time to rest and kind of go into the series being healthy.”
The only difference heading into this series is the Kings don’t quite know who they’ll be playing in the finals. There's no question which team will be more rested, however.
The New Jersey Devils will be playing their 18th postseason game Friday night when they try to clinch their Eastern Conference final against the visiting New York Rangers. If the Rangers can push the series to a seventh game, they'll suit up for the 21st time in these playoffs.
Are the Kings pushing for a seventh game in the East, just to shorten the amount of rest their opponent will have coming into the Stanley Cup finals?
“I’m not really worrying about that, to be honest,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s more worrying about getting ourselves some good rest here, starting to prepare and, to be honest, it would be really nice to know when we have an opponent. ... Then you can get your mind set in the right place, know who you’re playing, to prepare a little bit more. It will be nice, when that series is done, just for our own preparation.”
Some believe the extra time off could make a team rusty, or kill their momentum. Kings left wing Dustin Penner, who is playing in his second Stanley Cup final since 2007, disagrees.
“Rest isn’t the enemy,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of time to go over game tape and watch the other teams play live now. … I think everybody is going to take the opportunity to watch and see who we could potentially play. We’ll take the rest now.’’
And, hopefully, a big reward later.