When Patrick Marleau netted an overtime winner in the first round of the NHL playoffs to put the San Jose Sharks up 3-0 in their series with Los Angeles, very few still envisioned the Kings hoisting their second Stanley Cup in three years.
But then again, who expected them to win the Stanley Cup in 2012, when they entered the postseason as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference?
The Kings showed off a historic level of resiliency in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, refusing to go down quietly time and time again, starting with their first round series against San Jose. After dropping their first three games to the Sharks, Los Angeles seemed all but finished. They looked completely over-matched and out of sorts in the first two games of the series, where San Jose outscored the Kings 13-5.
But after its overtime loss in Game 3, Los Angeles flipped a switch and completely turned the tables, rattling off four consecutive victories to become the fourth team in NHL history and just the fifth team in the history of North American professional sports to come back from a 3-0 series deficit. That earned them a matchup with their rival Anaheim Ducks, who finished the regular season with the best record in the Western Conference.
After the Kings jumped out to a 2-0 series lead, Anaheim responded by winning the next three contests to once again push Los Angeles to the brink of elimination. With their resolve being tested once again, the Kings responded by winning a 2-1 thriller in Game 6 before thumping the Ducks 6-2 in an anticlimactic end to an otherwise tightly-contested series. The victory over Anaheim set up a highly-anticipated Western Conference Final between the the previous two Stanley Cup champions: the Kings and the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.
This series had it all: six unanswered goals by Los Angeles and a hat trick for Jeff Carter in Game 2, the Kings winning three-straight to take a 3-1 series lead, a double overtime classic in Game 5, and two tremendous performances by Patrick Kane to help the Blackhawks force a decisive Game 7 in Chicago.
The series-deciding game saw the Blackhawks take the lead on three different occasions, only for Los Angeles to have an answer every time. The Kings remained calm, cool, and collected to force overtime, even when the United Center was going absolutely berserk.
Los Angeles never led at any point in that game regulation, but took the lead when it mattered most, advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals on a game-winning goal by Alec Martinez. With the victory, the Kings became the first NHL team to ever win three Game 7s on the road in a single postseason. It also cemented Justin Williams’ status as one of the best playoff performers the NHL has ever seen, as he tied the record for most Game 7 goals (seven) in NHL history while also recording his 14th Game 7 point, more than any other player.
After running the gauntlet through the Western Conference in the first three rounds, Los Angeles faced off against Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final. Naturally, the resolute character and unwavering perseverance of Darryl Sutter’s team was once again on full display in the Final, where the Kings captured the title once again.
They won both Game 1 and Game 2 in overtime and double overtime, respectively, despite never holding a lead in regulation. Los Angeles, quite frankly, was the superior team in this series, but nearly every game was a nail-biter thanks to outstanding play between the pipes by Lundqvist. But even Lundqvist couldn’t deny the Kings – who seemed to be a team of destiny – of winning another Stanley Cup. Their 26-game postseason odyssey finally concluded in Game 5, when Alec Martinez once again ended a series when he scored the championship-clinching goal in double overtime.
While winning a second Stanley Cup title in three seasons in certainly impressive, the way the Kings went about doing it is what really makes this particular playoff run so remarkable. Unlike the 2011-12 team, which took 3-0 series leads in every round of the playoffs and relied heavily on stout defense and stellar goaltending, this year’s squad will likely be forever remembered as the “Comeback Kings,” a team that was more potent offensively and whose unrelenting doggedness proved too much for any opponent to overcome.
Many core players from their first Stanley Cup-winning team were on this one as well, including Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Justin Williams, Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter. But there also are new faces who played key roles as well. The most notable of those was Marian Gaborik, who general manager Dean Lombardi acquired in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets in early March to provide the team with some extra offensive firepower. Gaborik was instrumental in Los Angeles’ postseason success, scoring 14 goals in the playoffs, the highest total for anyone since 2009.
Quick, the star of the first improbable run to a Stanley Cup, didn’t play up to the level he did when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2012. However, he did seem to play his best hockey when his team needed him the most, which is what great players do.
This time around is was “Mr. Game 7″ Justin Williams who won the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But make no mistake, it was a total group effort that made this unthinkable trek to a Stanley Cup title a reality. Darryl Sutter, who continues to prove that he’s one of the finest coaches in the NHL, and his team simply refused to give in.
The Los Angeles Kings may not ever set themselves apart in the regular season, but when the chips are down and the spotlight of the Stanley Cup playoffs are shining, nobody can compare to them.
A franchise that for so many years was an NHL laughingstock might now be on its way to becoming its latest dynasty.