People may have missed it, but last night was a historic night for the sporting world. The Los Angeles Kings won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. What makes it even more historic is that the Kings were the first ever No. 8 seed to win a championship in either the NHL or NBA (the MLB and NFL don't go as far down as an eight seed).
This epic run by the Kings points to a trend that has been developing in sports over the last few years. No longer are the best teams winning the hardware every player desires. Now teams are showing that it is better to be hot in the playoffs rather than being good during the regular season.
The Los Angeles Kings showed this like no other team can. The Kings were out of a playoff spot on March 28, just 10 days before the season ended. They fought their way up to the No. 3 seed at points during the playoff race, and ultimately ended up with the No. 8 seed. But they were already primed to go on a Stanley Cup run.
In the first round, the Kings first beat the President's Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in five games. In the second round, they swept the Central Division champion St. Louis Blues. In the conference finals, they sent the No. 3 seeded Phoenix Coyotes to the golf course in just five games.
The No. 8 seed Kings defeated the top three teams in their conference to make the Stanley Cup Finals, and they did it without losing a single road game.
In the Finals, they faced the New Jersey Devils, who were a No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference who just came off a stunning upset of top-seeded Rangers in the conference finals. The Devils gave Los Angeles the most trouble, forcing them to six games and causing the Kings to lose their first away game, but the Kings ultimately prevailed, finishing the postseason with a 16-4 record.
This trend does not just happen in hockey, but also in the MLB and NFL.
Just look at the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. With 32 games left in the season, the Cardinals were down 10.5 games to the Atlanta Braves for the wild card. Over that span, the Cardinals went 23-9 and primed themselves for a one-game playoff game against the Braves. But with a little help from the Philadelphia Phillies, the Cards won the wild card on the last game of the season.
The Cardinals then faced the favored Phillies in the NLDS, and a 1-0 shutout gem by Chris Carpenter in Game 5 allowed them to move on to the NLCS against the Central Division champion Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers had an unbelievable 57-24 home record, the best in baseball. The Cardinals went on to take two of three games at Miller Park, and defeated the Brewers in six games. A team that seemed dead in the water a month before the playoffs were now in the World Series.
The Cardinals faced the AL champion Texas Rangers, who were making their second consecutive World Series appearance. The Rangers went up 3-2 in the series and were one strike away from winning their first championship, when the Cardinals' hottest hitter came up to bat.
David Freese hit a two-run triple to send the game into extra innings, and Josh Hamilton answered with a two-run homer of his own to put the Rangers back in the lead. Lance Berkman responded with a two-out single in the 10th to retie the game, and David Freese hit a solo walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th to send the series to Game 7.
With all the momentum after the dramatic Game 6 win, the Cardinals went on to win Game 7 and the World Series Crown.
Last year in the NFL, the Packers were the team to beat. They went 15-1 in the regular season, and were regarded as much better than their 2010 championship team. The New York Giants had other plans.
The Giants, seeded fourth in the NFC, were 7-7 after Week 15 and barely made the playoffs after winning their final two games of the season and getting help from other teams.
The Giants only gave up two points in a 24-2 blowout. With their third straight win, Big Blue were primed to face the Packers.
The Giants went into Lambeau Field and completely outplayed the Packers from start to finish. The Packers couldn't handle the Giants defense and Eli Manning torched the NFL's worst defense en route to a 37-20 victory. After beating the 49ers in overtime in the NFC Championship, the Giants were up against the No. 1 seeded New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
In a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, the Giants again came in as the underdog. They went on to beat the Patriots on a remarkable drive by Eli Manning in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, and the defense shut down the Patriots' final attempts to salvage the game.
All of these teams show that in sports, the hotter team with the hotter players will beat the team with the best players. Money can buy you players, but heart wins you championships.