LOS ANGELES – For Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty, the Stanley Cup felt surprisingly heavy. After carrying around the burden of losing and the weight of expectation for so long, it should have been as light as a feather. Simon Gagne’s knees almost buckled under the weight of the 35.5 pounds of silverware, but it was nothing compared to how heavy his head and his heart felt for most of the season while he sat out with a concussion.
The Los Angeles Kings can breathe easily now. For most of the season they felt the weight of the contenders in the Western Conference on top of them in the standings, but now they’re the ones who are looking down at the hockey world. And they’re doing it because their best players, the ones who were drafted and developed by this organization and the ones who were brought in piece by piece, willed it to happen.
In every game the Kings won in the Stanley Cup final, their best and most lauded players were spectacular. Their best soundly outplayed the best players the Devils had to offer and that’s the major reason why they are now champions.
It takes a village to raise a Stanley Cup, but it also helps when the village elders take the lead, the way the Kings best players did from the time the puck dropped for the playoffs in early April. None was better than goalie Jonathan Quick, who from the beginning of the season to the last buzzer, delivered a nine-month goaltending performance every bit as good as any goalie who is enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Brown, who came perilously close to being traded at the deadline, was an absolute force for the first three rounds and was the best player on the ice in the decisive game. Anze Kopitar was a beast and Drew Doughty officially served notice to the guy who engraves the Norris Trophy that he’d better get a template ready.
(Kopitar and Brown finished the playoffs with exactly the same number of goals (eight), assists (12), points (20, to lead the league) and recorded identical plus-minus figures of plus-16.)
“It took us a while to realize we were a championship caliber team,” said Justin Williams, one of the most underappreciated players in the NHL today. “But once we did we were unstoppable. Tonight we proved it with a statement.”
The fact the Kings won the Stanley Cup in and of itself is not unique. The Kings were 13th in the Western Conference at one point this season, but the 1938 Chicago Blackhawks won the Cup after posting a regular season record of 14-25-9. It was the way the Kings won it that makes them so uncanny. Until this spring, teams and executives around the league had convinced themselves and their sometimes gullible fan bases that all a team needed to do was to find its way into the playoffs and anything could happen.
And it was largely a bunch of bunk. Yes, there were teams such as the Edmonton Oilers in 2006 and the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 who almost did it, but teams that capture lightning in a bottle in the playoffs after underachieving during the regular season have always been exposed at one point during the post-season. But not the Kings, a team that saw its offensive production go up in the playoffs. This team did prove that anything actually can happen, that a team can lose five of six games and leave the Joe Louis Arena with an 8-2 loss hanging on its neck, then go 42-17-11 and win the Stanley Cup.
“At our lowest moments, I think the biggest thing is nobody ever turned on someone else,” said Quick, who was an easy choice as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner. “Everybody stuck with it. Go through five-, six-game losing streaks, whatever it was, and guys are still encouraging, still competing in practice. You can’t say enough about the resilience it took to get through those times during the season and still make the playoffs.”
As it turned out, making the playoffs was the most difficult task the Kings had all season. And even though they hit a few bumps in the final, they made quick work of their opponents in all four rounds, crushing their spirits before they had an opportunity to know what hit them.
More than ever before, the Stanley Cup has become about which team can be the best one in the league from early April to mid-June, which team can summon superhuman performances from its star players when it matters most. And the Kings did that better than anyone else in the NHL this season.
History tells us they probably won’t repeat the feat next season, if there even is a next season. But that is a matter for another day. The Kings are champions – and deserving ones at that.
1. Dustin Brown: The Kings captain opened the scoring and added two assists, cementing his reputation as a big-game performer.
2. Jeff Carter: He displayed sublime stick skills when he tipped in what turned out to be the game-winning goal and added another at even strength.
3. Drew Doughty: Had two assists and played 8:34 of the 13 minutes the Kings had on the power play.
THE BLACK HOLE
Blame this game on the officials if you must, but they made the right call on the Steve Bernier major penalty that opened the floodgates in the first period. The Devils penalty killers from Martin Brodeur out could have turned the tide in their favor by killing it off, but allowed three goals in less than four minutes.