LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Defenceman Rob Scuderi absorbed the hardest hit in the Los Angeles Kings’ Stanley Cup clincher when Steve Bernier took a run at him behind the Kings’ net and sent him careening headfirst into the boards.
He stayed down for an uncomfortably long moment before heading to the dressing room under his own power. By the time he returned, the Kings had scored three power play goals on the ensuing 5-minute power play following Bernier’s boarding major.
Talk about taking one for the team.
“You’d rather that not be the way you contribute to the game, but what’s the difference?” Scuderi asked. “Our power play was able to take advantage of a tremendous opportunity, and really helped us get control of the game. All the credit goes to the guys who were on the ice, and certainly it was great to have the guys on the power play come through for us.”
Scuderi received a battery of tests in the dressing room before he was cleared to continue.
“I had to go through some doctor stuff, things along those lines, so I didn’t get back until the start of the second period,” Scuderi said. “It’s standard procedure when anyone takes a pretty good shot, but I thought the trainers and doctors did a good job. They asked me a million questions in a short amount of time.”
This was Scuderi’s second Stanley Cup title, and he is just one of four Kings with a ring. He won with Pittsburgh in 2009.
“I knew I was one of a few guys that experienced being to the finals, but it still feels like the first time when that horn goes off and it’s over and you’ve been part of a team that’s been able to do it,” he said. “It’s a special feeling.”
BITTERSWEET TIME FOR MELROSE: The Los Angeles Kings’ Stanley Cup celebration must have seemed like an out-of-body experience for ESPN analyst Barry Melrose.
He led the Kings to the finals as a rookie coach in 1993, falling three wins short of a championship despite the efforts of Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille and a young Rob Blake.
“A lot of things seemed familiar,” Melrose said. “I saw Luc out here, Blakie was here also, and I was talking to Gretz the other day. Then (former trainer) Pete Demers came up and saw me today. So I saw a lot of friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. It’s been a great day.
“It’s a bigger building than the Forum, but it was great,” Melrose added. “The L.A. fans are great, some of the best fans in the world and the most rabid fans in the world, and they showed that during these whole playoffs. This building has been packed all season, so I think people are seeing that L.A. is a great hockey town.”
No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champs since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998, which is probably the last thing on the minds of everyone in the organization now that they’ve won it for the first time in the franchise’s 45-year history.
“There’s a great foundation here. But don’t forget, we were saying the same thing about Pittsburgh and Chicago, and they haven’t been back. So it’s hard to come back,” Melrose said. “You think you’re going to come back every year. I mean, look at me. I went to the Stanley Cup finals my first year and didn’t get back. But this team has got everything it needs. It’s got a motivated owner, a revenue-producing building and a good GM. All the good players are in their prime, and they’re only going to get better.”
SECOND SIX SELECTION: The Kings left behind both the Devils and the St. Louis Blues during the Stanley Cup finals.
St. Louis is now the only existing team from the NHL’s first expansion in 1967 that has yet to win a championship. That Second Six expansion class doubled the six-team league’s size and forever changed the game from an insular, Northeast-based sport to a continent-wide endeavour.
Philadelphia won the Second Six’s first Cup in 1974, and Pittsburgh won it in 1991. The Minnesota North Stars triumphed in 1999 after moving to Dallas.
One of the Second Six teams is long gone: After two name changes, the Bay Area’s California Golden Seals moved to Cleveland in 1976 and disappeared when they merged with the North Stars two years later. The NHL wanted two teams in California to fend off the potential creation of a rival regional league while also hoping to get a bigger television contract, but hockey in the Bay Area didn’t take hold until the San Jose Sharks arrived.
Los Angeles also is the fourth straight team to end a lengthy drought by winning the Cup. The Boston Bruins, last year’s champion, hadn’t won since 1972, 2010 champion Chicago hadn’t won since 1961—the NHL’s longest drought at the time—and 2009 Cup winners Pittsburgh had only waited since 1992.
Toronto, which won its last Cup title in 1967—right before expansion—still has the NHL’s longest championship drought.
WILLIE’S REWARD: Willie Mitchell began his NHL career with New Jersey in 2000, but played just two games for the champion Devils. That wasn’t enough to get his name on the Stanley Cup.
Just 12 years later, he’s a champion.
Mitchell even got to raise the Cup right after captain Dustin Brown, an honour traditionally reserved for long-serving veterans whose reward was overdue.
“It was classy,” Mitchell said. “It’s a classy thing to do. I guess it might have been tradition in the history of the game, for the older guys like (Simon) Gagne, (Matt) Greene, (Jeff) Carter and (Mike) Richards. All of us had our different reasons for being here, and that’s what we’re playing for.”
Mitchell scored three points in 20 post-season games while playing tenacious defence in numerous situations. He was a key component of the Kings’ peerless penalty-killing unit.