LA Kings build another contender 8 years after raising Cup

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Los Angeles Kings raised the Stanley Cup for the second time in June 2014, punctuating a phenomenal three-year run in which the longtime NHL afterthoughts won 10 playoff series as one of the most tenacious teams in hockey.

And then the Kings won just one playoff game in nearly eight years between that Cup title and Monday’s series-opening victory in Edmonton.

Getting to the pinnacle of the sport was a long, laborious process for a Second Six franchise that won one conference title in its first 43 seasons of existence. That three-year period of success from 2012-14 was a comfort to LA’s long-suffering fans well after their team slipped back into the NHL pack.

With a roster that exceeded many expectations this season just by making the playoffs, the Kings are starting to believe that getting back to the top might not take decades again.

Coach Todd McLellan loves the progress Los Angeles has made heading into Game 3 on Friday night tied 1-1 with the star-studded Oilers in their first-round series. The Kings are still underdogs, but they are confident they are building something.

“I think it gives us a marker on the line of evolution, and the marker moves each year,” McLellan said of the Kings’ first playoff berth in four years.

“The marker on the line was actually moving backwards the first few years, and now it’s come back to even, and starting to move towards where we need to take it,” McLellan added. “That’s a reflection on the plan, the resiliency of the plan, the scouting staff, development team, everybody and anybody that’s involved in the organization, including the players.”

The Kings slid slowly from their peak while former general manager Dean Lombardi’s front office mightily tried to preserve a championship-winning culture. They handed out enormous contracts with baffling regularity, and they ended up regretting many of them.

Trapped between reloading and rebuilding, the Kings finally were forced to change nearly every key component of their franchise over the past eight seasons. The team that takes the ice in downtown Los Angeles for Game 3 on Friday night has only a few things in common with the champions who raised the two title banners hanging in the rafters.

Yet the Kings managed to preserve a remarkable, nearly unique foundation in the modern game.

Four players remain on the roster from their two championship teams. Because star defenseman Drew Doughty is out for the season after wrist surgery, only three are playing against the Oilers — and with Dustin Brown’s pending retirement, only three will be back next season.

What a quartet it is, however: Brown, Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick were drafted and developed by the Kings between 2003 and 2008, and they’ve been together for the past 14 seasons.

Few teams in all sports can boast of such continuity — and while the Kings overhauled their front office, made three coaching changes and replaced every other player on the roster since their championships, those four have stayed to give Los Angeles an identity, a ticket-selling focal point and an institutional memory of success.

“Those four guys take the lead,” general manager Rob Blake said. “That’s the reason this team is where it’s at. … It makes it a heck of a lot easier from our point of view because they have been able to win. A lot of times, you’re like, ‘Well, do we keep (the core)? Have they been able to (win)?’ They’ve been able to do that.”

Yet the Kings treaded water for several seasons in a mediocre stretch that continued even after Blake took charge of the front office in 2017 and McLellan took over behind the bench in 2019. The current season loomed as a vital stage in the process after the Kings finished seventh and sixth in the Pacific Division in McLellan’s first two years.

But the current Kings developed a clear identity that resulted in a 44-27-11 regular season and 99 points — their most since 2016.

Los Angeles wins by relentlessly clogging the neutral zone, doggedly defending its opponents’ top players and doing enough offensively to score 235 goals, fewer than every playoff team except Dallas. Their defense is bolstered by an incredible bounce-back season from Quick, the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner whose career in LA appeared to be all but over a season ago.

While Brown and captain Kopitar provide leadership and points, the second generation of talent is emerging alongside Blake’s canny acquisitions of veterans Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson. Adrian Kempe had career highs of 35 goals and 54 points in his All-Star season, and Southern California native Trevor Moore chipped in with a career-high 48 points.

The Kings persevered through a 1-5-1 start to the season and ensuing injury problems to emerge as the third-best team in the Pacific Division. Even if they don’t manage to upset the Oilers, Los Angeles is building a base of success for its next generation.

“Some of the young guys have taken on (leadership) roles that maybe necessarily weren’t expect from them just because we had so many guys hurt throughout the season,” Kopitar said. “They’ve handled a bit more pressure than maybe we should’ve put ’em through to begin with, so I like where our team is at.”

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    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

    Andrei Kuzmenko
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.

    Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

    Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

    Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

    Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

    The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

    Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

    Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

    Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

    Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

    In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

    Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.


    Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

    Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

    Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

    Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

    Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

    Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

    The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

    The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

    Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

    He found a little of both.

    The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

    “I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

    Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

    His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

    The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

    “It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

    The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

    Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

    Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

    “That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

    Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

    Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

    “We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

    Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

    Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

    “It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”


    Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

    Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.