Kings call Stanley Cup playoffs berth ‘a long time coming’ but want more

Kings center Andreas Athanasiou, left, is congratulated after scoring during the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks on April 21 at Arena. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The biggest challenge the Kings faced on the night they clinched a playoff berth was seeing it happen.

In Seattle ahead of their game with the Kraken, the Kings clinched their first postseason appearance since 2018 when the Dallas Stars beat the Vegas Golden Knights in a shootout Tuesday night, ending just the fifth multiyear playoff drought in franchise history.

Since the game was on ESPN+, and the Seattle Mariners were playing live, head coach Todd McLellan had to work to see the clinching moment.

“They weren’t too keen on changing it, it’s obviously a pretty good baseball city here,” he said at Wednesday’s morning skate. “We were excited, I didn’t watch with the players obviously, I watched with the staff and some of the management, but we were all excited.”

The Kings, who will face the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the playoffs, were swept by the Golden Knights in the first round in 2018 and haven’t won a playoff series since winning the 2014 Stanley Cup against the New York Rangers.

McLellan wasn’t with the Kings the last time they reached the postseason. Only four players — goaltender Jonathan Quick, leading scorer Anze Kopitar, defenseman Drew Doughty and veteran center Dustin Brown — were a part of the Kings teams that won Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. Only Alex Iafallo and Adrian Kempe were also part of the 2018 playoff team

“It’s been a long time coming,” said McLellan, who took over as Kings head coach in 2019-20 after four years in Edmonton. “I wasn’t here for the beginning of the journey, but from when I got on the bus until now, there have been ups and downs. But the plan has been really clear and the commitment to the plan has been strong. Nobody has wavered from it and that includes everybody from management to the coaching staff and in particular the players. They knew what they signed up for when it started. It wasn’t always easy, but the four remaining Stanley Cup champs have committed to it and stuck to it. Then, everybody else along the way, found a way to contribute to get back here. It was by no means easy and we’d like to think we have a lot of miles left in that journey.”

Kings forward Philip Danault, who set a career high with 26 goals after signing in Los Angeles in the offseason, went to the Cup Final a year ago with the Montreal Canadiens.

The Kings aren’t quite the underdogs the Canadiens were as the lowest seed in the postseason last year, but they are facing the Oilers as the lower seed.

“We were all excited, but at the same time, we were ready for today,” he said before the game in Seattle. “Our destiny was in our hands, but it was definitely special and obviously you want to clinch as early as possible.”

Danault, who signed a six-year, $33-million deal, isn’t the only member of the Kings with deep postseason experience on other teams. Olli Maatta won a Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017, Victor Arvidsson went to the Final in 2017 with the Nashville Predators and Alexander Edler played in the Final in 2011 with the Vancouver Canucks.

The Kings will rely on that experience with a mostly younger club, especially defensemen Sean Durzi and Jordan Spence — who has averaged 19 minutes, 39 seconds per game in his first 22 NHL contests — while Doughty remains out because of injury.

Defenseman Mikey Anderson was activated from injured reserve ahead of the game in Seattle, adding more good news on an overall good day for the organization.

“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, but not satisfied,” Danault said. “A lot of grinding this year, and we didn’t know what to expect at the beginning of the year. But we stuck with the system and we played well, we played our game, trusted each other and believed in ourselves.

“Here we are today, clinched for the playoffs.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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