LOS ANGELES -- Paybacks don't always go according to plan.
Revenge usually plays out better in our imagination than it does in reality.
The faces and places that motivate us in the summer generally become bad memories that fade into the background when next year rolls around.
Not this time. Not for the Los Angeles Kings.
One year after having their dreams of winning a second straight Stanley Cup dashed by the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center in Game 5 of their Western Conference finals series, the Kings are in position to return that exact same favor, in the exact same fashion and in the exact same venue on the Blackhawks.
After taking a commanding 3-1 series lead following Monday's 5-2 win in Los Angeles, the Kings can end the Blackhawks' season and hopes for a second straight championship in Chicago in Game 5 to advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in three years.
The Kings will tell you their singular goal this season has been to return to the finals and win the Stanley Cup again. But they knew the road to that ultimate goal would take them through Chicago. And they'd be lying if they didn't admit that's the way they wanted it.
The memories of coming up short in the longest game in team history and to the team that eventually would hold up the Stanley Cup the Kings believed should be theirs still sticks with them.
"Winning is tough, and sometimes you have to lose again to get that fire back," Kings forward Justin Williams said. "Last year stuck with me for a long time. Losing in Game 5 when we had the Cup and they knocked us out and took it, obviously that's on our minds.
"Knowing that a team got the better of us doesn't sit well with me."
The Kings had been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the prior two seasons before winning the Stanley Cup in 2012. Before that, they hadn't made the playoffs in seven seasons.
But the Kings' miraculous postseason run as an 8-seed two years ago not only rewrote the history books, it changed their view of the postseason. They grasped what it felt like to win the Stanley Cup and didn't want that feeling to ever be taken away from them.
"You don't realize what you're playing for until you've won it," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "Obviously, doing that in 2012, we realize what we're playing for each and every year.
"Last year when we got knocked out, it stung more than it did in previous years for that reason."
Most Kings couldn't bear to watch the Stanley Cup finals after they were eliminated. The sight of the Blackhawks holding the Cup they had kissed, drank out of and spent the summer parading around the world was just too much to stomach.
As much as the Kings disliked the Blackhawks and considered them rivals, they knew they couldn't make that claim publically. As Williams said before the series began, "Rivalries only exist when another team wins. We haven't done that yet."
"Yet" was the key word in Williams' answer then, as the Kings intend for this to become a full-fledged rivalry on Wednesday by dashing Chicago's hopes for a repeat title -- just as the Blackhawks did to them last year.
"That stuck with me," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "It was a frustrating time. I wanted to win that Cup again so bad, along with all the other guys on my team, and it hurts when you can't get what you want back. At that point when we got eliminated, we were no longer the Stanley Cup champions, and it stuck with me for the whole summer.
"It really gave me the drive and, even more, the want to beat this team, just because they did take our season away last year. And now it's our turn to do it back to them."
Last year, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp dominated the Kings and were the biggest reasons Chicago won the series in five games. In fact, Kane became just the fourth player in the past 30 years to record a hat trick in a conference finals clincher last year and the first to do it since Wayne Gretzky with the Kings in 1993.
This year, Kane and Sharp have been virtually invisible in this series, combining for one goal and one assist after four games, as the Kings have change their defensive strategy.
"I think we've adjusted our game," Brown said. "Their game is very specific in the way that they play, and so is ours. But obviously, last year, for whatever reason, they controlled the play, and I think we found a way to make the adjustments, and most of it is on the defensive side in the neutral zone.
"That's where I think the biggest change in our play is, and I think it's had an effect on some of their guys not being able to carry the puck into the zone, and that's a big part of their game."
When the Kings began their season eight months ago, their goal was simple. They wanted to win the Stanley Cup again, and they knew for that dream to become a reality, they would have to get by Chicago.
"I think losing last year makes you drive a little bit harder to win," Williams said. "You don't want anyone to take anything from you. Chicago took it from us last year. We're trying to reciprocate. We won in 2012, then we lost last year. That might get the fire going a little bit more, knowing that someone got the better of you.
"I know a lot of guys on our team hate losing just as much as they love winning. We don't want anyone to get the better of us. We feel we owe them something."