The names “Smythe Division” and “Campbell Conference” were put out to pasture in 1993, when the NHL moved back to geographical names for its divisions and conferences. The names live on in the rafters at Staples Center (and at the El Segundo practice facility), where the Kings’ two banners hang. One of the banners, of course, is for the 1993 conference championship. The other is for the 1991 division title, the team’s only division title in history. If the Kings win their final two games, though, they can assure themselves of the Pacific Division title and end a 22-year drought. When that gap was mentioned to Darryl Sutter today, he said, “It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care about the history of the team, (just) yesterday, today and tomorrow.’’
Beyond the bragging rights of a division title, it would also bring home-ice advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs. The Kings haven’t had home-ice advantage in a playoff series since a first-round loss to Edmonton in 1992 (they’ve had 11 playoff series since that one.) Thanks to a home-ice turnaround under Sutter, that might make a difference this season. This season, under Terry Murray the Kings had a 7-8-1 record at Staples Center. Under Sutter, they have a 15-6-3 home record. That’s an area that Sutter has frequently brought up during his tenure, but does he have an explanation for the turnaround?
SUTTER: “No, I’ll leave that to you guys. It was there before I got here. We just worked on it. What do you think it is? I think it’s very difficult to be a well-prepared hockey player in this environment. You have to really work at it, especially when you don’t have a lot of experience in it. … It’s not a hockey environment, is it? So you have to work at it. That may be why they haven’t won too many division titles here.’’
That’s an interesting comment from Sutter, but it also dovetails with Dean Lombardi’s frequent remarks about “culture’’ and about making sure players want to play in Los Angeles for the correct reasons. Finally, how much motivation is there for the Kings to win the division title? A lot, according to Anze Kopitar and Jarret Stoll…
KOPITAR: “It does (mean a lot), yes. I think it’s a nice accomplishment at the end of the day, and obviously it locks up the third spot. That’s our goal right now. There’s definitely some work left to be done, but we’re ready for it. It’s a good challenge for us. Sometimes when you go into these playoff races, it’s nice to have a goal, to clinch the division and not just squeak in. It’s nice.’’
STOLL: “Our first goal was to be in the top eight. Our second goal was to have home ice in Game 1. We can get both. It’s in our own hands. We’re all talking about it in here. We’re all excited about that. We’ve just got to come out and take care of our business.’’