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Both Kings, Blackhawks know what it takes to get to the next level

Los Angeles KingsNational Hockey LeagueSportsChicago BlackhawksJonathan ToewsDrew DoughtyStanley Cup Playoffs

There seemed to be a difference of opinion this week.

The Kings were pushing for back-to-back Stanley Cup championships a year ago, only to be eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals. Now the Kings can send the defending champion Blackhawks home to hone their golf games with a victory Friday in Game 6 of the conference finals at Staples Center.

Some shrug at the thought.

"I don't think that has any bearing on how we approach this year," said Kings captain Dustin Brown.

Some relish the opportunity.

"Last year stuck with me for a long time," teammate Justin Williams said. "We had the Cup, they knocked us out and took it. Obviously that's on our minds."

Basically, whatever mind-set is needed to get through the series is applicable.

These are the dog days of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Two teams so close to the final step, yet a pratfall or two away from an early summer at the lake or the beach.

"It has been a grind the last couple years, and it is going to continue to be a grind the next game for us," Brown said. "You don't understand that until you've done it."

Both teams have.

The Kings are in the conference finals for the third consecutive season. The Blackhawks are trying to win the Stanley Cup for the third time in five seasons and become the first team to win the Cup in back-to-back seasons since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98.

What that means, Brown said, is: "When it gets really hard, you can lean on that experience of winning it and what that meant. You don't understand what you have until you get there once and then have it taken away. It makes you hungry."

The Blackhawks have played 75 playoff games and the Kings 69 since 2010. Only the Boston Bruins, with 81, have played more.

That type of workload can give players an epiphany.

"I think you learn a little bit more about yourself, what makes you go as a player every single year," Blackhawks' center Jonathan Toews said. "Last year was a different situation that I was in 2010. This year I learned from what I went through in the postseason last year. Individually you understand those little things you could maybe do differently in hindsight and try to improve upon it."

The Blackhawks don't want to improve on last season, merely duplicate it.

Besides the Red Wings in 1998, only two defending champions have reached the Final in the last 20 years — Dallas in 2000 and Detroit in 2009.

The Kings made it to the conference finals as defending champions last season. The Blackhawks failed to get out of the first round in 2011, but are back for another try this season.

"I think we're going to consider ourselves a team that has a chance to win every time we reach the playoffs for a number of years after this year," Toews said.

It has been pitched that winning the Cup for a third time in five seasons would earn the Blackhawks the "dynasty" label. They could at least make the argument.

Since the NHL's 1967-68 expansion, two teams have won four consecutive titles — the Montreal Canadiens (1976-79) and New York Islanders (1980-83). The Edmonton Oilers won five in seven seasons, from 1984-90. The Red Wings won three in six seasons, from 1997-2002.

"I think we have a group that understands the opportunity we have," Toews said. "It doesn't make any sense to pass that up."

The Kings passed a year ago, or rather were intercepted by the Blackhawks.

"We know how good a team they are," Kings' defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We also know they took our Cup back from us last year. Now it's our turn. We want to eliminate this team."

The Kings had a chance to do that in Game 5, but lost in double-overtime, 5-4, Wednesday.

"We're not going to go away easy," Toews said.

The extensive playoff experience has made both teams difficult to close out. The Blackhawks lost the first two games to the St. Louis Blues in the first round, then won the next four. The Kings rallied from a 3-0 deficit against the San Jose Sharks in the first round.

"We know what it takes to get to this point," Doughty said. "If you take that one shift off, it can hurt you. That happened to us [Wednesday]."

But acquiring that experience requires logging a lot of playoff miles the last five seasons.

There are reasons repeating has become a chore — free agency, parity promoted by the salary cap, etc. But wear and tear in a physically demanding sport contributes.

"A team that goes to the finals and wins has played more than 100 games," Brown said. "To go deep into the playoffs the next year, you've played more than 200 games. It's hard."

Once again, there seemed to be a difference of opinion among Kings players.

Said Doughty: "The heart doesn't get tired."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Los Angeles KingsNational Hockey LeagueSportsChicago BlackhawksJonathan ToewsDrew DoughtyStanley Cup Playoffs
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