Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Kings' Stanley Cup Run Was Unexpected, And Historic

It was the night when fans banged on the glass very hard, it was the night when gloves came flying off. It was the moment for the Los Angeles Kings. It was a night, as time ran off the clock, when they skated down the ice with their arms in the air. It was a night when celebratory fans were screaming and waving towels, witnessing a historic moment for the LA hockey team, something not even Wayne Gretzky could accomplish in his eight years spent in Los Angeles. The Kings have waited 45 years for a moment to celebrate their first ever Stanley Cup. And so here it come, a pile of joy, a sense of humanity spreading throughout LA, after the Kings beat the New Jersey Devils 6-1 in Game 6 of the finals, to become the first eighth-seeded playoff team to win the championship.

As soon as the red carpet was rolled on to the ice, the growing star on center ice, Dustin Brown, who became the second American-born captain to sustain a triumphant feat, was presented the storied trophy and kissed it. Brown, to traditionally continue the Stanley Cup presentation after tender ties with his teammates, handed it to 35-year-old veteran Willie Mitchell, the team's oldest player, and then he passed it to Simon Gagne and eventually Anze Kopitar had touched it. When it was all over, Jonathan Quick, an impenetrable goaltender who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the National Hockey League's 2012 playoffs, raised his stick in celebration. His incumbent coach, Darryl Sutter, who is soft-spoken and has an aw-shucks psyche, smiled largely. The roars, followed by the thunderous pounding on the glass, were deafening for the first Stanley Cup Finals in Staples Center history.

It had been some season for the Kings, almost gut-wrenching as they could have endured a major collapse and given the Devils a chance for one of the greatest comebacks, after LA had taken a 3-0 lead and then failed to close it out in two potential championship-clinchers. Far more amazing is the pandemonium that sent Kings mascot, Bailey, the lion, running wildly in the stands. And historically so, this Kings team will always go down as one of the best, if not the best hockey team, a major pro sports franchise in LA, simply for raising the first ever Kings banner into the rafters at Staples Center, a hockey team that can now relate to the Los Angeles Lakers. This was finally a chance for the Kings to taste the glory, a chance to forge a place in Los Angeles' sports vault, a chance to bring forth relevance to move out of the Lakers and Dodgers' shadows, two storied teams that have won an abundance of championships.

Long live the Kings.

It's finally come, at last. And it never even seemed possible. No one saw this, let alone anticipated for the Kings to reach an all time peak and wear the crown of royalty in Hollywood. It's now a well-known hockey town, one of the most popular sports in Los Angeles suddenly, when the Kings stole public attention from the Lakers and locals voluntarily turned to hockey. Say hello to hockey town for now. Normally the Lakers are putting on a show in their gym in June. Around this time each season, the Lakers are playing for an NBA championship. Not this time. The oddity of L.A. sports featured the Kings, not the Lakers.

A long time ago, the Lakers were done, on vacation somewhere on Catalina Island, while there was a sand sculpture built of the LA Kings logos, jerseys, numbers, and Quick. There is no denying the Kings, and rightly so, the atmosphere at Staples Center had been lively and remains vibrant after LA won the first Stanley Cup since the franchise came into existence in 1967. It was history in the making, and the Kings own a chapter in a library of NHL books. Mired in trouble, the Kings third time on ice, following back-to-back losses, was a charm thrashing and clinching a historic victory. They never lost an ounce of confidence and kept their poise, and finally prevailed to finish off the series four games to two. As it happened, the Kings scored three quick goals in the first period alone.

Early on, the Devils were short-handed for a few minutes because of austere penalty. Within that span, Brown, Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis scored and New Jersey trailed 3-0. The Kings, out of all teams, are 2012 Stanley Cup champions, fighting off all the adversity and early struggles by refusing to back down. All summer, we will talk about is how they won only half of their regular-season games. All summer, we will talk about how they made the playoffs in the final week of the season to clinch the eighth seed. And wouldn't you know, they historically won and created a nice hockey story. Given an eight-year, $56-million contract he signed before the season, Drew Doughty had developed into a shutdown defensive player.

Under Terry Murray the Kings had suffocated and hired Sutter to recuse a near-loss season by installing confidence and recreating a group who wanted to truly win, and they certainly pulled it off. The hockey world is stunned by now, and probably should be. Even though the Devils, led by longtime goalie Martin Brodeur, scared the Kings fans with the ability to stop their opponents briefly, it never denied banged-up, toothless, worn down Kings players from an incredible ending that will last forever. No one ever thought they would steamroll through No. 1 Vancouver Canucks, No. 2 St. Louis Blues and No. 3 Phoenix Coyotes.

This was never thought to happen, not this season, maybe years from now but not now.

That's what makes it so wonderful and historic.