It was a 49-year championship drought that was snapped by the Chicago Blackhawks on a warm summer night in Philadelphia just two years ago. A 39-year wait came to an end in June of 2011 when the underdog Boston Bruins took down the heavily favored Vancouver Canucks on Rogers Arena ice. On Monday night, the Los Angeles Kings became the third team in as many years to bring Stanley Cup fever to a long-suffering hockey fan base. The Kings took home their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, defeating the visiting New Jersey Devils by a 6-1 score in game six of the Final.
For the first time since the franchise’s inception in 1967, the Kings have rightfully received their crown.
It started midway through the opening period when the Kings were put on a five minute power-play, courtesy of a Steve Bernier major penalty for boarding Rob Scuderi behind the Los Angeles net. It was then that Kings’ captain Dustin Brown would redirect a pass from defenseman Drew Doughty through the legs of Martin Brodeur to open the game’s scoring. Just 102 seconds later, the oft-criticized former Flyers’ star Jeff Carter would double the Los Angeles lead with a redirection goal of his own. With just nine seconds left on the extended man advantage, gritty third-liner Trevor Lewis poked home a rebound to extend the lead to 3-0.
Just a minute and a half into period two, Carter would strike once more. The 6’4” London, Ontario native put the puck through a mail slot with a wrist shot of tremendous precision. The shot beat Brodeur high glove side to give the Kings a seemingly insurmountable 4-0 lead. New Jersey would get one back – off the stick of Calder trophy candidate Adam Henrique — with just 1:13 to go in the middle period, but it would simply prove to be too little, too late.
With a 4-1 lead, the Kings were just twenty minutes away from reaching hockey immortality, while creating the biggest party-on-ice in Hollywood history.
At the tail end of the final frame, the Kings would add two more goals in a fifteen second span, off the sticks of two unheralded playoff heroes: Trevor Lewis and Matt Greene. The score was now 6-1.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Staples Center erupted in a black and white roar of epic proportions. The Kings were champions. After a season of ups-and-downs, a coach firing and a blockbuster trade, the Los Angeles Kings sit alone at the highest peak of the hockey world.
General Manager Dean Lombardi’s (Ludlow, MA) gutsy decision to bring in tremendously talented, but troubled superstars Mike Richards and Jeff Carter had paid off. The two combined for 12 goals and 16 assists during Los Angeles’ remarkable 16-4 playoff run. His mid-season decision to replace long-time bench boss Terry Murray with Calgary cast-off Darryl Sutter proved to be nothing short of genius. Just before the February trading deadline, rumors began to surface that suggested Lombardi was toying with the idea of dealing captain Dustin Brown for a package of prospects. The Ithaca, New York native’s league-leading twenty-point postseason output proved that his general manager’s decision to keep him in town was, in fact, the right one. After years of rebuilding, it all came together for the Kings are the best possible time.
Realistically, the Kings unbelievable run to Lord Stanley actually began in mid-March.
For the final three weeks of the regular season, it was unclear as to if this team would even qualify for the postseason. However, an otherworldly 9-2-3 run to end the campaign secured the Kings the number eight seed in the Western Conference playoffs. It was then that they made quick work of the two-time President’s trophy-winning Canucks in a short five game series. Next, it was on to St. Louis where the Kings easily dispatched the second-seeded Blues in an unbelievably dominating four game sweep. The Pacific division champion Phoenix Coyotes were next on the chopping block as Los Angeles advanced to the Conference finals for the first time since 1993. The Kings once again handled their opponent with ease, taking down the Coyotes in just five games, while posting a perfect 3-0 record at Phoenix’s Jobing.com Arena.
As Brown became just the second American-born captain – Dallas’ Derian Hatcher (1999) was the first — to ever hoist the Stanley Cup above his head, his Kings’ squad became the first number eight seed to take home hockey’s Holy Grail in NHL history. The Kings’ improbable run to glory in the spring of 2012 was truly something to behold. As hockey fans, we should be grateful for being able to witness it.
From a personal standpoint, watching the Kings take home the very same prize that ventured around the streets of Boston just one summer ago held a bit of extra meaning.
Being lucky enough to interview a plethora of NHLers throughout this past season, I’ve been able to enjoy a number of encounters with some of the world’s greatest hockey players. One in particular that I will always remember was that with Los Angeles Kings’ centerman Anze Kopitar. After falling 3-0 to the (then) defending champion Boston Bruins, the Kings’ locker room was quite visibly discouraged and distraught. It was their fifth consecutive defeat and had caused them to plummet into the Western Conference basement. The 24-year-old European phenom could have easily opted to forgo his media session in favor of a quick exit from the building. Kopitar wanted no part of it. He stood up and answered for his team’s struggles like a true leader does. Even after fulfilling his duties with the mainstream Los Angeles media, Kopitar remained available, answering questions from myself and a few of my colleagues, providing us with interview experience that is invaluable to rookie reporters. Did he have to do this? Nope, not by any stretch of the imagination. But he did it anyway. And for as insignificant as that three minute clip of audio may be, I will always remember that moment. All class, folks.
Now, almost exactly six months since that chilly December evening on Causeway Street, Kopitar has become the first ever Slovenian-born player to win the Stanley Cup…… Contrary to popular belief, nice guys don’t always finish last.
An eighth-seeded Cinderella story capturing the greatest prize in all of sports. The hockey gods rewarding a player (s) for consummate professionalism. The dramatic conclusion of a four-and-a-half decade-long championship drought. These are the types of magical stories that fuel our passion for this game, the captivating moments that reinforce the profound place in our hearts held by the majestic sport of hockey.
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About the Author: Boston Bruins writer for Hockey Independent. Have written for The Hockey Guys and SB Nation Boston. Follow me on Twitter @_BWoodward or shoot me an email at BWoodward.HI@gmail.com.