Last night, the Los Angeles Kings capped off a magical run with a 6-1 routing of the New Jersey Devils to clinch the franchise's first Stanley Cup. It was an impressive performance by the #8 seed in the West, a team that barely squeaked into the playoffs.
But it all came together for the Kings, led by young goalie Jonathan Quick (a UMass alum who also won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP), a strong defense corps featuring Drew Doughty and a group of hard-working forwards including captain Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Coach Darryl Sutter took over a struggling team in December and got them going at just the right time. LA was dominant through the first three rounds, taking out #1 seed Vancouver in five games, #2 St. Louis in four and #3 Phoenix in five. The Kings were up 3-0 over the Devils in the final before NJ clawed back to make it respectable by winning two games; game 6 started off evenly enough. But a stupid boarding penalty by NJ's Steve Bernier led to a 5-minute power play for LA and resulted in a quick 3-0 lead in the first period.
I was hoping the Devils would force a game 7 but I was rooting for LA to win it all. They're a likable team and in a playoffs that featured more than its share of questionable hits, the Kings played it fairly clean. It was really only the team's second chance at the Cup in its 45-year existence, having previously made the finals in 1993 after Wayne Gretzky led them past my beloved Maple Leafs in a hard-fought seven-game series. I rooted for the Kings against Montreal that year, but the Habs quickly dispatched of them in five and LA didn't have so much as a sniff of contention in the years since.
Indeed, looking at the 12 teams in the NHL in 1967-68, the first post-expansion season, only two franchises have gone without a Cup since then: St. Louis and Toronto. The Blues made three early appearances in the finals but were eliminated by powerhouse Montreal and Boston teams; the closest they've come since then is the conference finals. The Leafs haven't made the finals since they last won the Cup in 1967; they've had a few conference finals appearances with their best shot at winning it all coming in '93. The Blues are certainly positioned better to contend, coming off a 109-point season (albeit a disappointing postseason); the Leafs are still a ways off from contention, sadly.
But for now, I tip my proverbial hat to the Kings and to former stars like Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer, Dave Taylor (the three made up the Triple Crown Line), Rogie Vachon, Kelly Hrudey, Bernie Nicholls and others who excelled in LA but never won the big one. I'm sure there are plenty of bandwagon fans who hopped on this spring, but the Kings have a core of long-suffering supporters who are no doubt extremely happy right now. It's always cool to see a team finally win the Cup after years of futility. Hopefully I'll be able to enjoy something similar one of these years.
The Kings' Triple Crown Line:
And here's the Triple Crown Line singing. Good lord: