Next step for Kings? Shed underdog status
After another first-round exit, L.A. seeks to become legitimate contender
By J.P. Hoornstra, Staff Writer
What looked on the outside like the end of the Kings' season looked like a start to Dean Lombardi on Monday night.
When the general manager scanned the Kings' locker room at Staples Center after their 4-3 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks in Game 6, he saw something encouraging in the players' discouragement.
"You can tell when they're legitimately pissed off versus `Yeah, I would have liked to win' or `Yeah, I'm ticked off but it was pretty good.' You know what, they really thought they could win this thing," Lombardi said. "They kind of liked the fact that nobody gave them any chance."
Therein lies the next step for a team coming off another first-round exit and a 98-point regular season. It was a team many expected would improve upon its surprise 101-point campaign and first-round exit from a year ago and shed the underdog label.
The Kings tried by getting off to a 12-3-0 start, the best in the NHL. That's when the ups and downs set in.
A 1-7-0 stretch followed in November, then a 9-2-1 streak in December and a 2-10-0 run in January. Then came an outstanding finish after the All-Star break in which the Kings lost consecutive games only twice.
Depending on what time of the year you played them, the Kings either were the best or worst team in the league.
"We had 19 wins in 32 games, 43 points, after the All-Star break," head coach Terry Murray said. "That's the kind of game that we need to show at the start of the year. That would get you into a home-ice advantage, and the expectations grow from there."
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