Justin Williams, Dustin Penner, Rob Scuderi and Colin Fraser have traveled this path before, feeling their confidence grow faster than their playoff beards as their respective teams marched to the Stanley Cup championship.
Williams emerged as a scoring threat with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and added seven postseason goals in 25 games as they defeated Edmonton in the Cup finals. Penner made a splash by scoring 29 goals for the Ducks in 2007 and teamed with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the "Kid Line," adding size and production to a deep, dominant team.
Scuderi became known as "the Piece" during the Pittsburgh Penguins' 2009 triumph. He got the nickname after he misspoke while intending to say he was just one piece of that powerful team, but his shot-blocking skills lent a lot of truth to that label. And Fraser played only three games of the Chicago Blackhawks' 2010 Cup run, but role players have a way of asserting themselves at key times, as he is doing this spring with the Kings.
All four have been valuable resources in the locker room and on the ice while the Kings advanced to the Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Coyotes, counseling less-experienced teammates on small matters such as getting the proper rest and bigger issues such as how to breathe when the pressure tightens their chests.
"The Penguins hadn't won a round in a long time and when you win one round you feel really good, like you accomplished something. And then you win two rounds and you feel real good and you still realize when you step back that you're only halfway there," Scuderi said.
"It's fun. It's OK to be excited. It's OK to have fun with it. But you just have to realize that it's not our end goal."
Before the Kings upset the No. 1-seeded Vancouver Canucks and No.-2 seeded St. Louis Blues, core players Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty hadn't won a playoff series. Now, they're preparing for the West finals, which are likely to start Sunday in Glendale, Ariz., although a league spokesman said late Wednesday that he could not confirm the schedule.
Four other Kings have lost in the Cup finals — Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene with Edmonton in 2006 and Mike Richards and Jeff Carter with Philadelphia in 2010. The four winners are living, breathing, names-engraved-on-the-Cup proof that it can be done.
Brown, the Kings' captain, said the quartet's advice has special value because the members played a range of roles in those triumphs.
"Different guys can draw from different players who have gone through it," Brown said after the Kings practiced Wednesday in El Segundo, "and it just helps our roster from top to bottom because of the variety of players we have that have won the Cup."
Williams said his 2006 team had the factors common to every winner, including a superb goalie and a minimum of injuries. "And you have guys that raise their levels come playoff time," he said. "And I think we have all those factors right now that every championship team needs. In saying that, we've won two rounds. There's four teams left ... and we want to be the last one standing."
Penner said the Cup finalists' experience "helps as a collective mentality. It kind of bleeds onto the rest of the guys." He recalled how the Ducks' assurance increased with each step forward and said the same is happening with the Kings.
"It's momentum and confidence, considering the teams we beat," he said. "But you've got to deposit that in the bank after the series and focus on earning the next game and next series and next vote of confidence."
They won't get that chance for a few more days, giving them a long layoff since they completed their sweep of the Blues on Sunday. The 2010 Blackhawks had five days off between sweeping San Jose in the West finals and facing Philadelphia in the Cup finals and Fraser said they had no difficulty staying sharp. He will make sure the Kings are prepared for the next step too.
"It's the finals, or the conference finals here," Fraser said, "and if you can't get ready for that, I think that's a problem."