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Experience brings confidence for Kings, Blues

Both teams finally break through with a victory in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, bolstering their hopes for an extended postseason run.

April 28, 2012|By Helene Elliott
  • Blues center T.J. Oshie flips a pass around Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell during the first period of a game last month at Staples Center.
Blues center T.J. Oshie flips a pass around Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)

ST. LOUIS -- A few weeks ago, before the Kings began their playoff journey, center Jarret Stoll said that as a young player with Edmonton in 2006, he and his No. 8-seeded Oilers teammates gained a lot of confidence from upsetting the No. 1-seeded Detroit Red Wings. Those Oilers went on to the Stanley Cup finals that spring, losing in seven games to Carolina.

Now that the No. 8-seeded Kings have upset the No. 1-seeded Vancouver Canucks to advance to a second-round matchup against the St. Louis Blues, Stoll said he sees the same kind of increased confidence among the Kings as he did after the Oilers pulled off their upset six years ago.

“Any time you have a group of guys that haven’t won a playoff series -- that was the case with most of our guys in ’06 in Edmonton -- that’s true. And it’s the same with a lot of guys this year,” he said Saturday after the Kings’ game-day skate before the opener of their second-round series against the Blues at Scottrade Center.

“There’s a lot of guys who hadn’t been out of the first round. Since I’ve been here there were two first-round losses. You have good regular seasons those years but we just couldn’t push through. This year to get past that stage is a confidence-booster in itself.”

The confidence he and his Oilers teammates gained after their first-round upset in 2006 was evident in many ways, he said, and they could show up for the Kings on Saturday.

“Just realizing those little plays that you need to make. How much a fine line it is," he said. “It’s a fine line during the regular season and it’s even magnified. Discipline, not taking penalties, power play and penalty killing, big saves at big times -- all those little key things that help you win."

The Blues were the No. 2-seeded team in their first-round series against San Jose and ousted the Sharks in five games but, like the Kings, they had many core players who hadn’t previously won a playoff series. The franchise’s last series win was in 2002, when defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was 12 and center Patrik Berglund was not quite 14.

Again like the Kings, who have several Cup winners on their team and others like Stoll who lost in the finals, the Blues can look for guidance from players who have extensive playoff experience. Winger Jamie Langenbrunner won with Dallas in 1999 and again with New Jersey in 2003, and center Jason Arnott won with New Jersey in 2000, and they’ve helped their less-experienced teammates cope with playoff pressure.

“The first round was one of our goals,” Langenbrunner said. “We wanted first to make the playoffs, second to win the division and third to win the Cup, and this was one step. It was great for the organization to kind of get over that hump a little bit and win a playoff round but that’s not our focus. Our focus is to be playing well into June.”

Langenbrunner, 36, said he leads with words and by example, as the situation calls for it.

“If something needs to be said I’ll say it,” he said. “I try to conduct myself a certain way and stay composed and relaxed when things are going a little crazy out there. You need to do that this time of year because the stress is up and the pressure is on a little bit.”

Arnott, 37, takes the same approach.

“You don’t have to oversay things. Everybody’s a professional in here," he said. “For the most part you’ve got to go out and contribute on the ice and when things are needed to be said in the room then usually the older guys will step up and say things. You don’t want to overdo things and make it too much on the young guys because then they start going the other way and you want to be a team in here and be together."

Both veterans credited Coach Ken Hitchock for the team’s success to date. Hitchcock replaced Davis Payne 13 games into the season and brought a wealth of knowledge and experience that Payne was unable to provide.

Hitchcock simplified things “and stressed that we had the right pieces here,” Langenbrunner said. “The way that management went about the season was that there weren’t any really big changes on our team from training camp other than the trade for [Kris] Russell. It’s been the same guys since Day One and I think that really gave guys a lot of confidence.

“He said, ‘You guys are a good team. We just need to clean up some things,’ and it’s been a work in progress all year with him in doing that. He was the right guy at the right time for this team.”
Arnott also said Hitchcock had simplified things. “I can’t explain it. It just turned around,” Arnott said.

“Sometimes you just need a new breath of fresh air to come in and turn things around. Hitch knows the game so well and knows how to manage everybody. He came in and everybody just responded real well for him, so it was great."


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