"It’s great to be back," Stoll said Tuesday. "A lot of work went into this. We worked this year to get to this stage and take advantage of it. We’re not anywhere yet. At the end of this whole deal we want to be happy with our game and where we’re at. There’s a lot of work left to be done."
Teammate Justin Williams was on the Carolina team in 2006 that beat Stoll’s Oilers. In fact, Williams sealed the deal with an empty-net goal in Game 7 and guess who was chasing him in an Oilers uniform on that play.
"I’ve told him a couple of times that I wanted to break his legs when I was chasing him down on the empty-netter," Stoll joked. "We just laugh. We’ve talked about it a couple of times."
One thing he clearly learned from that seven-game loss to Carolina was how the game goes to yet another level come puck drop in the Cup finals.
"It is another level," said Stoll. "It’s funny because sometimes you don’t realize how much you can push your body mentally and physically. You can push it a long ways. And quite a way. To realize that and to push through that is another level. Hopefully, a lot of guys in our group can do that."
Speaking of Williams, the road to his second Stanley Cup finals has been neither straight nor smooth. Between the 2007-08 season and 2009-10, he played in just 130 games thanks to a host of injuries.
These moments, then, are meant to be cherished.
“Maybe if I was here every year, it wouldn’t be as special; 2006 was a long time ago," Williams said. "A lot has happened to me since then. I’ve battled through some injuries. I’ve had some times where I thought my best years were behind me. I’ve stuck with it. I was able to play a lot of games in the last couple of years and now to be back here, it makes it all worth it and satisfying."
Did he wonder if his career was at an end?
“Not quite that far, but once injuries mount and they keep coming you question yourself, your training regimen, what you’re doing on the ice, things you can get away with out there," he said. "But I just stuck with it, but I never got to that point where I thought about hanging them up or anything like that."
Doughty king of LA
On a team with a lot of guys running hot, no one King might be as hot entering the finals as defenseman Drew Doughty. He was a force in the Western Conference finals and the Kings are hoping he can continue that level of play once the finals start.
His dominance is in stark contrast to his play earlier in the year. He missed training camp in a contract dispute and acknowledged that it took some time to come to grips with his new contract and the new expectations with being the highest-paid player on the Kings.
“I think I definitely felt the pressure a little bit," Doughty said. "Missing camp obviously wasn't a good thing. I wasn't happy I had to do that. Throughout the year I knew I had to live up to expectations. I signed the biggest contract on the team. If you're doing that, you have to be the best player on the team. I wanted to do that. I worked my hardest to do that. The pressure got to me and I wasn't myself.
"As the year went on, I started to put that in the back of my mind and kind of forget about it. I'm back to playing the way I can. ... I just figured it out that I needed to forget about it and just play the way I used to play, just kind of carefree, having fun out there. Once I started to have fun out there, that's when I hit my stride. Now I'm feeling good.”
Doughty, like many of the Kings, has seen a dramatic change in his status in Los Angeles in recent weeks with their run to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup finals since 1993.
“It's nuts,” he said. “It's ridiculous. It's a complete 180. I played in L.A. for four years now. My first three years, there wasn't a time when I was out for dinner, out anywhere, no one said anything. For example, this week, down where we all live, there's a big festival by the beach. There's tons of Kings gear, tons of Kings hats. When we were leaving dinner one night, the whole restaurant gave us a clap and started chanting our names. We're getting recognized everywhere we go. We're the talk of the city. It's great to see.”
The defenseman said he thinks this is a great chance for the team to raise the game’s profile in a city usually dominated by basketball, baseball and football.
“In L.A., hockey's definitely not something -- [you hear] 'What do you do?' 'Play for the Kings.' 'Sacramento Kings?' No one knows anything about hockey," Doughty said. "It's a great thing that people are finally coming to games. There's so many times when I hear people telling me it's their first hockey game and they had so much fun.
“It's great that we can kind of put L.A. on the map as a hockey city. To come down here, have that rivalry with the East Coast, it's going to be great for hockey.”
Kings GM Dean Lombardi scoffs at the notion his team hasn’t faced any adversity in the playoffs. Just because the Kings got by Vancouver in five games, St. Louis in a sweep and Phoenix in five doesn’t mean it was easy.
"I don’t think any game against the Vancouver Canucks is not adversity," Lombardi said. "That’s a heck of a hockey team. If anybody saw the St. Louis Blues this year, they’re probably the hardest-working team in the league. And Phoenix, everybody just focuses on their financial situation and completely overlooks that’s a really good hockey team that’s really well-coached. OK, we were fortunate to come up on the right end of the scores, but if you don’t think that’s adversity.
"And as I said earlier, this team faced a tremendous amount of adversity during the regular season. From going to Europe and all the things we went through ... they’re well versed in adversity. Those kids have grown a lot. But I’ve got too much respect for the three teams we beat to think for a second that it was easy."
Lots of interesting connections between these two teams, including a strong bond between New Jersey Devils coach Pete DeBoer and Los Angeles Kings center and former Philadelphia captain Mike Richards. Richards played for DeBoer in junior hockey in Kitchener, Ontario.
“I love Richie," DeBoer said. "You know, we won together. He grew up in the organization I was running. He's a great kid. He's one of those guys you want in the foxhole with you if you're going to war.
“I also know we have some of those guys on our team, too. It will be a great battle."