LOS ANGELES (AP) — After a Stanley Cup championship run that stunned everybody but the players in the Los Angeles Kings' locker room, they've all returned to attempt the improbable again.
Really. They're all back in black — every player who touched the ice during that magical run to a long-suffering franchise's first NHL title.
"We all know this is a rare situation when you get the chance to try it again with the same team," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We don't take it lightly, and we're going to use it to our advantage."
Pro sports teams sometimes can't stay together for even a few weeks, but the Kings are a remarkable exception. After the eighth-seeded club coalesced at the perfect time for a championship surge, the Kings' management decided this team was too good to break up.
Jonathan Quick, their Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goalie, got a 10-year contract extension. Captain Dustin Brown, top scorer Anze Kopitar and the solid defense are back intact. The Kings even inked coach Darryl Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi to multiyear contract extensions Friday on the eve of the season opener, securing every significant bit of the team that ended 45 years of frustration for Los Angeles hockey fans with a 16-4 rampage through the postseason.
"Dean did a great job of keeping the team together," said Sutter, who is beginning his first full season with the club. "To know that we have every guy back is pretty cool. I don't know if it's an advantage, because there's so many other factors, but it's great for the guys to get this chance, because nobody gets it in sports."
The advantages in this unusual situation could be pronounced during a lockout-shortened NHL season. While other teams work on chemistry and familiarity, the Kings know each other well from their difficult regular season and that stellar playoff run that ended with a six-game victory over the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup finals.
The Kings will raise their first championship banner in the Staples Center rafters Saturday before facing Chicago. Their fans are still on a high from last season, when the Kings took a 3-0 lead in all four playoff series, never played an elimination game, and only trailed for about 184 minutes in the entire postseason.
While their roster hasn't changed, their reputation will never be the same — but the Kings are confident they can handle the scrutiny in an abbreviated season.