Jeff Carter, Mike Richards

The Kings, the Cup and Lord Stanley’s hangover

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If winning the Stanley Cup is one of the toughest accomplishments in sports, how tough is it to win two in a row?

That’s a question the LA Kings will answer in 2012-13.

Historically speaking, capturing consecutive titles has been difficult. There have been just two repeat champions since 1990 — the Pittsburgh Penguins 1991-92 and the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98.

For you mathletes out there, that’s 15 years without a back-to-back champ — which isn’t overly surprising. A full playoff run combined with the regular season is (usually) over 100 games in length, a grind that takes a massive physical toll.

And since the lockout, that toll seems to have increased.

The 2006 Cup champion Hurricanes didn’t make the playoffs in 2007. The 2007 Cup champion Ducks lost in the opening round of the 2008 playoffs.

Detroit and Pittsburgh briefly reversed the trend by each making consecutive Stanley Cup finals in 2008-09, but the trend returned with the 2010 Cup champion Blackhawks (bounced in Round 1 of the 2011 playoffs) and the 2011 Cup champion Bruins (out in the opening round in 2012.)

That said, the Kings are uniquely positioned to buck that trend.

The biggest reason — as mentioned in the offseason report — is that L.A. returns almost its entire Cup-winning roster, a rarity in today’s NHL. Whereas the Bruins and Blackhawks lost key contributors following their victories, the Kings’ biggest loss might be Scott Parse, who appeared in nine regular season and zero playoff games.

Also consider the theory that Los Angeles’ run wasn’t super taxing. Taxing sure, but in the context of previous runs, not so much.

The Kings were average performers for half regular season — Anze Kopitar said they were “way more aggressive” after Darryl Sutter took over — and their playoff run consisted of 20 games with no series going longer than six (whereas three of Boston’s series went to Game 7.)

And hey, it wasn’t like the Kings were shouldering years of lengthy playoff runs. Last season was the first time L.A. advanced past the opening round since 2001.

The flip side of this, though, is that L.A. now has an unprecedented profile. The bullseye on its collective backs will be magnified by 1) the highest expectations in the club’s 45-year history, and 2) the immense spotlight that’s sure to be on Jonathan Quick after winning the Conn Smythe and signing a $58 million contract.

So…are the Kings well positioned to repeat, or will the task be too tall?

Let us know in the comments section.

Video: Drouin equalizes, but Rust strikes again 30 seconds later

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Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.

After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.

Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:

Now, back to Rust.

With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.

Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?

Video: Rust opens scoring in Game 7

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What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.

Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.

After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.

Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.

Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

Steven Stamkos
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He’s in.

As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

More:

Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

 

Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

And then Stamkos took the warmup.

As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

Stay tuned…