Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 5/23/12
GLENDALE, Ariz. Staples Center will feel a whole lot roomier when the Kings return to Los Angeles. The Lakers are gone and the Clippers are gone. The Kings will have the run of the building and the undivided attention of its fans as they chase a goal whose seeds were planted more than two decades ago. Well probably have to get a bigger bandwagon, said forward Dustin Penner, who scored the game-winning goal at 17:42 of the first overtime in the Kings series-clinching, 4-3 win over the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on Tuesday at Jobing.com Arena. The victory put the Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1993 when Wayne Gretzky sparked a hockey revolution in southern California by guiding L.A to the first final in franchise history after his blockbuster trade in 1988. Most of the current Kings were school boys or toddlers then, but they learned one valuable lesson from that ground-breaking club. We dont want to follow suit with the 93 team, said captain Dustin Brown, who followed a time-honored tradition by refusing to touch the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl when NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly awarded it Tuesday. Theres a lot of work to be done. The Kings dont know the identity of their next opponent the New York Rangers or the New Jersey Devils. But given the mountains theyve already climbed in this postseason, it comes as no surprise that theyll be favored against either club. Over the past six weeks, Los Angeles has knocked off the Western Conferences No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds (thats never been accomplished before), theyve posted an NHL record 8-0 road mark and theyve won 12 of 14 postseason games. Not bad for a No. 8 seed whose playoff fate was in doubt entering the final two weeks of the season. Its not as easy as it looks, defenseman Drew Doughty said, laughing. I know were winning games and, at times, dominating teams, but its so hard out there. The game of hockey is a funny thing. And a perplexing one. Nobody within the organization thought it would take this long to return to the finals after the Kings last run. We were hoping we had started a tradition, said Kings president of business operations, Luc Robitaille, who played for that 1993 team. Instead, that season was the high point, with significant lows in the years that followed. In 2006, general manager Dave Taylor, director of player personnel Bill O'Flaherty, coach John Torchetti and three assistants were fired while Kings CEO Tim Leiweke vacated his position. Dean Lombardi was hired as GM and the Kings began a rebuilding process through the draft, trades and a youth movement. The last six years, we did so much work at breaking down our organization and rebuilding with all those young kids, Robitaille said. To see them flourish and play this way is very rewarding. Some of the credit for this seasons success should go to coach Darryl Sutter, who took over an offensively challenged team in December and found way to fit all the pieces together. Im proud of the players, Sutter said. Theyre the guys that sweat and bleed. Thats what its about. As the Kings and Coyotes shook hands at center ice after Tuesdays game, debris rained down on the ice from a disgruntled Phoenix fan base that had witnessed a controversial hit from Brown on defenseman Michal Rozsival mere minutes before Penners goal. There was jawing from the Coyotes and a post-game tirade from Phoenix captain Shane Doan about the perceived officiating hurdle his team faced in this series and the postseason. Brown declined to enter the fray. You give them the benefit of the doubt, he said. Their season just ended out there. Theyre upset and emotions can boil over. While the cash-strapped Coyotes miraculous season ended one round short of their goal, the Kings took one more step toward every hockey players dream. We always knew we had something special in here, Doughty said. Right when the playoffs started, you could feel the strength the team had. That first series against Vancouver, we played really good hockey and from there on out we just used that confidence to keep building.
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