Yes, it really happened!
This was for Gretzky. And Marcel Dionne. And Jozef Stumpel. And Ziggy Palffy, Rob Blake, Steve Duchesne, Dave Taylor, Marty McSorley, Kelly Hrudey and all the former Kings who fought the good fight for 45 years with no championship to show for it. LA's 6-1 clincher over the New Jersey Devils felt like a glacier being lifted off of the back of the faithful hockey fans of Los Angeles.
You can't quite say Southern California because Anaheim lifted the Cup in 2007. But for Kings fans, from the Sports Arena to the Forum to Staples Center, this odyssey seemed almost fitting: an eighth seed that was deemed an afterthought going into the playoffs turned into one of the most dominant teams in playoff history.
Where does it start? How do you properly give the credit to a team that seemed to come out of nowhere, but in truth was poised to make this type of push? Obviously, it starts with dour, but fair head man Daryl Sutter who was lured out of retirement to coach this club in the wake of Terry Murray's firing in mid-December. Sutter, as it has been said time and time again, brought a different energy to this team. The expectations went up, and slowly but surely the effort level and aggressiveness began to match.
In many ways, Sutter's hiring was the ignition to this turnaround. The tipping point was the deadline deal (which many Kings fans did not like) that brought Jeff Carter from Columbus for Jack Johnson. Carter's arrival did not pay immediate dividends, but he brought a dimension of scoring punch the Kings sorely lacked. His eight playoff goals are testament to that.
But let's be honest here. The unquestioned key to this team's ascent was the brilliance of goaltender Jonathan Quick. Over the last three months, Quick was quite simply the best goaltender in hockey. And going 16-4 with a 1.41 goals allowed average in the playoffs and finals, there was no doubt who the Conn Smythe trophy winner was going to be. He simply dominated these playoffs, and the Kings' run was completely in sync with his play.
Ultimately, there were standout performances from players such as the captain, Dustin Brown; the now very well known star Anze Kopitar; Mr. Pancakes himself, Dustin Penner; and unsung players such as Jordan Nolan, Rob Scuderi, Slava Voynov and Justin Williams who combined hard work, hustle and opportunity into big-time goals and timely defensive stops all throughout the playoffs. The formula came together perfectly for a team and a city to reach the top of the hockey mountain.
Some will write this off as a fluke. Who knows, there may be some merit to that. But it was not an accident. You do not lead all four series three games to none as a result of an accident. The best team in hockey won Monday night. And the Los Angeles Kings are the unquestioned monarchs of hockey. After 24 years of rooting for them, I may need more than a couple of hours to let that sink in.