The road to the championship has had numerous detours for the Los Angeles Kings. All that stands between them and Lord Stanley’s Cup is the New Jersey Devils.
The Rolomite | Daily Girth
It was a late Tuesday afternoon in May, some pizza was ordered, excitement seemed high and my friends planned to meet up to watch an important playoff game for our team. L.A.’s team.
Only it wasn’t the Lakers. Hell, it wasn’t even basketball.
It was hockey! NHL hockey!
We anticipated the Kings one-timing their way into the Stanley Cup Final, a feat they accomplished after Dustin Penner knocked in the winning goal at 17:42 in overtime in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.
The living room erupted in yells. Hands were shook. Some of us started pushing each other in celebration. Yeah, as soon as that started a dogpile was imminent. In the chaos, one of my friend’s basketball shorts were somehow pulled down.
The thrill of a sudden-death victory and nabbing a spot in the championship round caused a tense, somewhat quiet living room to burst into triumph. Had this been the Lakers, the reaction would have been different. We’d be pleased, but a “we’ve been here before, ho-hum” attitude would have prevailed.
This was the Los Angeles Kings going to the championship round! When does this happen?
It has happened before — almost 20 years ago. The Kings aren’t hoping for a repeat performance of 1993.
The Biggest Stick in Hockey History
Warning: this may be sickening to some Kings fans. Reliving 1993 is like remembering when you got married then coming to the realization that, yes, you now are, in fact, divorced. Your spouse cheated on you too. And you have to pay alimony. Oh, and Anschutz Entertainment Group is now poorly owning the Kings, what a nightmare, huh?
The Kings almost had a storybook season in 1993. In the final chapter, however, the bad guys won and Canada lived happily ever after.
L.A. went through the Canadian gauntlet, facing every northern North American team in the ’93 playoffs with the exception of the Quebec Nordiques (they are the Colorado Avalanche now). In round one, the Kings dispatched the Calgary Flames, scoring 18 goals in Games 5 and 6. The Vancouver Canucks were the Kings’ next victims as L.A. took that series in six games.
Canada was reeling, but the Toronto Maple Leafs came to the rescue. In what was one of the most thrilling seven-game series in NHL history, Toronto seemed poised to eliminate the Kings after taking a three-games-to-two lead.
Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player ever (that’s a fact, Gordie Howe, by the way, how’s Ms. Krabappel doing?), wouldn’t let the Kings go down. Gretzky nailed the game-winning goal in overtime in Game 6 and silenced all of the critics in Game 7.
No. 99 delivered one of the best performances in sports history with a hat trick in Game 7, leading the Kings to a 5-4 victory and a berth in the Stanley Cup Final. Gretzky, a Canadian who had won the Stanley Cup four times with the Edmonton Oilers, had been battered by the Canadian media by saying he looked like he was skating “with a piano on his back.” The Great One called his three-goal performance the greatest game of his career.
The fairy tale continued in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Montreal Canadiens with the Kings winning, 4-1 on the road. Game 2, however, was lowlighted when Kings defenseman Marty McSorley was accused of using an illegal stick. To this day that accusation is controversial. Some say the Canadiens asked for the stick measurement based on inside information. Either way, the Canadiens went on the power play, tied the game with less than two minutes to play then won in overtime.
That changed the momentum in the series. Montreal took the Cup in five games. The Kings did not live happily ever after.
Still Plenty of Room on the Bandwagon
In typical L.A. fashion, people loved the Kings when they were winning. The ’93 Stanley Cup brought all kinds of hockey fans to the forefront. Since then, however, the Kings haven’t had any success till this postseason. It’s been regular season futility and playoff flameouts.
A lot of it had to do with mismanagement. Anschutz Entertainment Group has owned the Kings since 1995. Rather than meeting Gretzky’s demand to improve the team to get back to the championship round, the Kings traded the Future Hall of Famer in 1996.
AEG was responsible for building Staples Center, which is more than a decade old, but still a state-of-the-art complex. Let’s be honest though, that place was the House That Shaq Built.
Without the attraction of the Los Angeles Lakers, it simply wouldn’t have worked. Winning three championships in a row helped the Staples cause. The Lakers have played in seven NBA Finals, winning five of those, since Staples Center opened. The Kings have made the playoffs six times in that span.
“ They’ve already redeemed themselves from the debacle against San Jose last year. They have already gone as far as the Great One. The last step is for the Kings to join the ranks of the Lakers and hang a championship banner. Division titles and conference championships don’t belong in The House That Shaq Built. ”
Even the co-tenant Clippers have made great strides to improve their team with the emergence of superstar Blake Griffin and acquisition of point guard Chris Paul.
Both basketball squads have completed their seasons and now only the Kings remain. L.A. fans love to jump on the bandwagon. Hopefully, they don’t sprain ankles when they land from their jumps.
I remember being excited about the last ’93 championship run. I was young, didn’t have cable and had to rely on the Channel 5 Morning News for extensive highlights. Reading about the Kings in the Los Angeles Times was my only source of in-depth coverage.
Today, everybody has some sort of satellite or TV-phone-Internet hookup. As for in-depth stuff, there were no blogs, Twitter/Facebook or dozens of media to turn to for hockey coverage. Nobody I knew had the Internet at that time.
With the emergence of the Lakers and futility of the Kings (a seven-game series in the second round doesn’t count, Kings fans), hockey wasn’t as dead as soccer (did the Galaxy have a parade of 1 million people after their championship last year?), but it was certainly on life support.
To make matters worse, even the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, which shouldn’t concern L.A. fans since they don’t even play in L.A. County. You’d have to be a fool to think Anaheim has anything to do with Los Angeles, it’s a rather long drive from Downtown to Orange County. The franchise could call itself the Los Angeles Ducks of Anaheim, but that would make no sense at all. Only a halfwit associates Anaheim with Los Angeles.
Still, I have great hatred for the Ducks. I know them mostly as a bunch of kids who formed the Flying V to score goals, joining forces with the top player from a bad guy team to take on the world and their coach instructing players how to handle a puck by using eggs. Oh, and the pro team had a goaltender with the last name Tugnutt. I imagine it must have been a very difficult childhood for Mr. Tugnutt.
Despite the Kings’ lack of success my friends were big fans. They even purchased mini-season ticket packages the past few years. In 2010, hopes were high because L.A. returned to the playoffs after being absent for seven straight seasons (yes, one of those seasons was canceled, but it still counts, the team still sucked). I watched some of those playoff games against Vancouver and grew to despise the Canucks. The more experienced Canucks overwhelmed the Kings in six games as the Sedin Brothers, Henrik and Daniel, ran circles around L.A.’s defense.
I knew nothing about the Sedins getting knocked off the puck with ease during the early portion of their careers. Others had labeled them the Sedin Sisters because of their soft play.
I simply called them the Sedin Sisters to make fun of them. The Canucks became the de facto rival for the Kings even though it might not have been the same for the Canadian squad.
In 2011, my support for the Kings grew to a new level as I had actually gone to a handful of games during the regular season and somehow, found myself going to their first home playoff game.
This playoff experienced changed my outlook from Kings supporter to Kings fan.
Let Get Rowdy, Let’s Get Reckless
Any championship squad must go through hurdles and sometimes, heartache.
The Kings faced both in their 2011 first-round matchup with the San Jose Sharks.
There was bad blood between these two. They both played in the Pacific Division and every game was hotly contested.
Unfortunately, the biggest heartache since probably the ’93 Stanley Cup ending took place in Game 3.
It was a blackout, every fan rocked a black jersey or T-shirt. A beer garden was set up at L.A. Live. There was face painting, a DJ, the very sexy Kings girls were giving out beads and looking smokin’ hot. These pre-game festivities resembled a carnival more than a playoff event.
My friends and I feasted at ESPN Zone; we also downed beverages of the hops and barley variety and of the hard liquor variety. Before the hockey game started, we bought drinks at Staples Center as well.
By the time the game actually began I was fairly loaded. To make matters worse (or better), the Kings scored a goal in just 2 minutes and 26 seconds into the game. It was the loudest Staples crowd since Hulk Hogan busted up a Muhammad Hassan beatdown on “special ed” wrestler Eugene at WrestleMania 21 in 2005. Surprisingly, the home team scored two more times in the first period, building what should have been an insurmountable lead.
I was honestly dizzy. The combination of beverages and sudden bursts of joy and yelling made me woozy. My friends and I later snuck into one of the suites after my buddy’s brother in law found two suite passes.
One dude checks if you have a suite pass. He gives a lightning-quick glance then you’re up the private escalator. Once you’re in that area, all bets are off. You could go anywhere. It didn’t matter that we didn’t have an actual seat to sit in. We were in the suite. Sitting on the couch inside the suite or on the high chairs at the eating area were an option. You could stand too, which we did.
You know why? It was nervous time. Somehow, the Kings blew what became a four-goal lead. The Sharks chomped the lead down in the second period, tying the score with 31 seconds to play.
After a scoreless third period, the Sharks devoured the souls of the Kings and their fans in overtime, scoring the game winner at 3:09 (thanks, Devin Setoguchi).
The Kings would lose the series, but I wanted in for next year’s playoffs.
There was no reason to expect the Kings to make it to the Stanley Cup Final. I knew they would put forth a better effort since their best player, Anze Kopitar, didn’t play during last season’s playoffs. Kopitar was L.A.’s leading point getter at 76 (25 goals, 51 assists).
Their coach, Darryl Sutter, wasn’t hired until Dec. 20, 2011. The offense improved dramatically under Sutter and acquiring center Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets helped as Carter netted nine points (six goals, three assists) in just 16 games.
L.A. has got contributions from everyone in the playoffs. Dustin Brown leads the team with seven goals followed by Kopitar’s six. Four other players have double digits points. Carter is one point away from joining that group.
The New Jersey Devils, the Kings’ opponent, also has six players with double-digit points. But they’ve had to play four more games.
Yeah, that’s another thing, the Kings, although the No. 8 seed, are a team to be feared. They have been absolutely dominant, going 8-0 on the road, something no team in NHL history has done.
The Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds have gone down in the West (Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix) and had the New York Rangers advanced from the East (they lost in the conference finals to the Devils), the No. 1 from the Eastern Conference might have had the chance to get slain.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick has been perhaps the best player in the postseason with a 1.54 goals-against average. Quick has been an absolute stud, with numbers like that he is in position to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, the award given to the MVP of the entire NHL playoffs. When your goaltender gives up less than two goals per game, the Kings always have a chance to win.
They’ve already redeemed themselves from the debacle against San Jose last year. They have already gone as far as the Great One. The last step is for the Kings to join the ranks of the Lakers and hang a championship banner. Division titles and conference championships don’t belong in The House That Shaq Built.
I’m still not ready to admit I’m a hockey fan. You’ll never catch me watching a regular season game between the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets on a random Saturday. But you can count on this: I sure as hell am a Kings fan and will be greatly disappointed if they don’t hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup when this championship round is over.