All the New York Rangers kept going back to was how it could’ve been different. Not necessarily regrets about how they played against the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup final but because of the 50/50 moments.
“A few bounces either way it could be a different outcome,” Rangers defenceman Kevin Klein said earlier this week.
Enough didn’t come to reverse the tide, and on Friday night the Kings finished off the Rangers in five games to capture their second Cup in three years. In the after light of this championship, there will be plenty of dynasty talk—and well-deserved—but in the rewind of this final, two major themes emerged as reasons they are again on top of the NHL: Luck and depth.
It’s not necessarily better to be lucky than good in hockey, but for the Kings it was a combination of both. But their best pure game of the season was their only loss, thanks to Henrik Lundqvist, Antron Stralman, Derek Stepan and a pile of snow in the crease.
In Games 1 and 2, each one an overtime victory following a two-goal comeback, the Kings got their break before the Rangers could. No goaltender interference being called on Dwight King’s Game 2 goal didn’t hurt, either.
There were so many funky bounces that “puck luck” became a cliche before the series ended. After the Rangers won Wednesday to avoid the first Cup final sweep since 1998, coach Alain Vigneault wondered if “maybe the luck is changing a little bit.”
That was wishful thinking, in part because these Kings turned out to be too deep and too strong to let luck send the series back to New York and make things interesting. The New Jersey Devils followed that pattern two years ago by winning Game 5 and forcing another cross-country flight after Los Angeles took a 3-0 series lead.
These Kings weren’t nearly as much of a buzzsaw as the 2012 incarnation. In 2014 they needed seven games in each of the first three series, including a comeback from a 3-0 hole against the San Jose Sharks in the first round.
But depth ultimately defined Los Angeles’s second Cup. In the final, 15 goals were scored by 12 different players, including two apiece by Conn Smythe winner Justin Williams, captain Dustin Brown and deadline acquisition Marian Gaborik.
“Depth has been huge,” No. 1 defenceman Drew Doughty said. “That’s how you win championships.”
Before the Kings took a stranglehold of the series, coach Darryl Sutter opined that “depth only matters when you win.” Three straight overtime games from the end of the Western Conference final through the start of the final required it.
“We’ve moved guys around,” Sutter said. “Obviously guys get banged up and things like that. But that is your biggest issue always in a series. It’s not just playing guys, it’s getting the quality, getting good minutes out of them.”
In these playoffs, the Kings had five players—Doughty, defencemen Jake Muzzin, Slava Voynov and Willie Mitchell and centre Anze Kopitar—averaging over 20 minutes of ice time. Eleven different players had at least 10 points over the 26-game run.
“I think just believe that anybody can do it,” Kopitar said. “It’s not like when we get down, everybody looks at, I don’t know, Carts to go do it. It’s everybody taking pride, chipping in, helping each other out.”
Rangers centre Brad Richards, the closest thing New York had to a captain since Ryan Callahan was dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning as part of the package for Martin St. Louis, called the Kings a “cool, collected team that doesn’t get rattled and it just seems that they’re scoring at the right times and getting big saves at the right times.”
Unlike in 2012, the Kings couldn’t call goaltender Jonathan Quick their best player in the playoffs. On the way to that Conn Smythe, Quick went 16-4 with a 1.41 goals-against average, .946 save percentage and three shutouts.
Quick’s numbers were more pedestrian this time around, but his 32-save shutout in Game 3 put Los Angeles on the verge.
Luck certainly helped in the clinching Game 5, when the Rangers hit the post not once but twice in overtime before Alec Martinez scored the winner.