ST. LOUIS -- The players were loose inside the Kings’ dressing room Monday on the eve of their 2013 playoff opener with the Blues.
As they begin defense of their Stanley Cup title, the Kings have a quiet confidence about them.
It’s well-earned. Unlike several recent champions, the Kings did not suffer from a Cup hangover. They've had a terrific regular season and look every bit a championship contender entering the postseason.
"Our players have done an incredible job of handling the attention, they've done an awesome job," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said Tuesday after practice. "It hasn't affected their performance one bit. That's the best part about our team. We were over a 100-point team when you do it [prorate it over 82 games]. The players deserve a lot of credit for that. There was zero highs and lows in our game. It was just managing through the injuries and a couple of guys that didn't do as much as they should have during the lockout."
The Blues know they've got their work cut out, especially after getting swept by the Kings a year ago. But they also believe they’re a different team.
"We’re better, we’re a better team," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "More experienced. Two guys on the back end in [Jordan] Leopold and [Jay] Bouwmeester that give us great depth. We went through a lot of adversity this year, we're stronger, we’re better. Whether we're good enough to beat them first of all in a game to start with, let alone a series, is still up for grabs. We have a lot to prove, not only to L.A. but to ourselves and the rest of the hockey community. And I think our guys are up to the challenge.
"Los Angeles is the only team that has the knowledge of what it takes to win. Everyone else can talk about it, but they have it. They know how deep you have to go, they've been there, they've done it. They have that experience. We got to tap into it and see if we can take it."
Blues winger T.J. Oshie skated hard in practice Monday, and it sure looks as though he's ready to return from an ankle injury that has kept him out since March 28. Hitchcock, however, wouldn't confirm that as a fait accompli for Game 1.
"Today was his first real practice with the full team," Hitchcock said Monday. "So we'll see how he feels tomorrow. If he feels OK, he's obviously going to play. If he doesn't, we'll do something else. He's going to be like that the rest of the series."
To underscore the importance of Oshie, Hitchcock later added: "He carries the conscience of the team. When he's in the lineup, we’re better."
Meanwhile, Matt Greene practiced with the Kings on Monday. He missed the regular-season finale Saturday with an undisclosed injury.
The question is whether he will be in the lineup in Game 1.
"He practiced with the team, so that means he's healthy," Sutter said.
Greene, an important leader on the team and a physical force, missed two months this season with a "midbody" injury, as the team called it. He came back recently and played four games before missing Saturday's game.
"It's fine, everything's good, life is good," Greene said after practice.
Hey, it's the playoffs. You can forget about knowing anything about injuries.