Sports Hockey


Kings set to take second step in Stanley Cup title defence


Los Angeles Kings forward Trevor Lewis (right) celebrates with Slava Voynov during their first-round playoff series against the St. Louis Blues. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

Los Angeles Kings forward Trevor Lewis (right) celebrates with Slava Voynov during their first-round playoff series against the St. Louis Blues. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)


Is it wrong to suggest the hard part is over?

Well, that wouldn’t really be fair to the San Jose Sharks or any of the six other squads still in Stanley Cup contention.

For the Los Angeles Kings, though, simply surviving the first round this spring is no small feat. Only twice over the past decade have the reigning champions advanced to the second round as they tried to defend their title.

“We expect this, but at the same time, we’re obviously not satisfied,” Kings winger Justin Williams told the L.A. Times after they eliminated the St. Louis Blues in six games in the opening round.

“We’re happy with the win but not satisfied. And just, I guess, we expect to win. We know there’s a lot of room for improvement, and it’s just four wins out of 16 that we’re looking to get.”

The Kings, who open their second-round series against the Sharks tonight at Staples Center, are aiming to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings of 1997 and 1998 to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

The Wings almost pulled it off again in 2009, setting up a Stanley Cup rematch with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but were denied a double. The Penguins’ road to repeat hit a dead-end in the second round the next spring.

They were the exceptions to the rule in recent years.

The Boston Bruins were bounced in the opening round in 2012. The Chicago Blackhawks didn’t get any further the previous season.

Going back a bit further, the Anaheim Ducks (2008), Tampa Bay Lightning (2006), New Jersey Devils (2004) and Wings (2003) were all eliminated in the opening round while attempting to keep their crowns.

In 2007, the defending champion Carolina Hurricanes didn’t even earn a playoff invite.

“Be thankful that you get the playoffs. Be thankful you get to the second round,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter, not one for nostalgia. “Don’t get ahead of yourselves. I look at it like our team has played six rounds now in a year, so we’re going to try and see how it goes.”

What makes their series with the Sharks a bit different is the Kings will be starting out at home.

As the eighth seed in the Western Conference last season, Sutter’s squad was always away from Staples Center for Game 1.

In fact, the Kings haven’t had home-ice advantage in a playoff series since 1992, when Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Marty McSorley and Co. were defeated by their old teammates — the Edmonton Oilers — in the first round of the Smythe Division playoffs.

The Kings, who dropped back-to-back games to the Blues in St. Louis before rattling off four in a row to advance, have won 10 consecutive games on home ice.

The sixth-seeded Sharks were 8-14-2 on the road in the regular season, the worst mark of any playoff team, but they beat the Vancouver Canucks twice at Rogers Arena en route to a first-round sweep.

“It’s huge to have home ice,” Kings defenceman Drew Doughty told “We get to be at home here, have our home-cooked meals, sleep in our own beds. It’s just awesome. Obviously, we’re playing in front of our own fans, which is a bonus.

“St. Louis, in that first series, fed off their own fans in those first two games. I think that’s a main reason they won those two. We have to do the same thing. We got to use that energy and make San Jose not want to play in our rink.”

On Twitter: @SUNGilbertson

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