The 25 Best Games of the 2011-12 NHL Season

Kevin W. Ryan@@kevry88Contributor IIIAugust 17, 2012

The 25 Best Games of the 2011-12 NHL Season

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    From Claude Grioux's dominance of Sidney Crosby to the underdog Los Angeles Kings taking the eighth seed all the way to the Stanley Cup, the 2011-12 NHL season was one of the most exciting seasons in recent history.

    Here are the 25 best games from the jam-packed 2011-12 NHL season. Enjoy...

International Season Openers

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    Date "Away" Team     "Home" Team        Location First Star
    Oct 7    Anaheim (1)         Buffalo (4)     Helsinki, Finland T. Vanek
    Oct 7 NY Rangers (2) Los Angeles (3) OT Stockholm, Sweden A. Kopitar
    Oct 8 NY Rangers (1)      Anaheim (2) SO Stockholm, Sweden J. Hiller
    Oct 8    Buffalo (4)    Los Angeles (2)    Berlin, Germany L. Adam

    The NHL optioned to begin the 2011-12 campaign with four "Primere" games played in Europe.  

    Yes, the games actually counted in the standings while making a valiant effort to build the game abroad. 

October 8, 2012: Ottawa Senators at Toronto Maple Leafs

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    First Star: Phil Kessel (3 G, 1 A, +3)

    Second Star: Dion Phaneuf (1 A, +2)

    Third Star: Daniel Alfredsson (2 G, -1) 

    While Buffalo and Los Angeles were battling it out in Berlin, the Maple Leafs and Senators began their 2012 season with an incredible game. 

    After two periods, the Maple Leafs were stomping the Senators 4-0 thanks to three points from Phil Kessel. 

    Once the third period rolled around, however, the Senators vaulted one of the most insane comebacks of the entire season. 

    Seven total goals were scored in the third period, five of which came from Ottawa's sticks. 

    Toronto fans officially became worried once future Hall of Famer Daniel Alfredsson sniped his second goal of the game, making the score 5-4 Leafs. 

    Kessel polished off his hat trick near the 18-minute mark to extend the lead and ultimately gave the Leafs a thrilling 6-5 win. 

October 9, 2012: Winnipeg's First Home Game

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    First Star: Tomas Plekanec (1 G, 2A, +3)

    Second Star: Carey Price (.968 save percentage)  

    Third Star: Nik Antripov (1 G) 

    When was the last time you saw a standing ovation following a four-goal loss? 

    Winnipeg is perhaps the most passionate fanbase in the NHL—even with their lackluster roster.

    Could you imagine how loud this place will get once the Jets make the playoffs? 

    Dear Gary Bettman, 

    Hockey belongs in Canada. Bring more teams there


    NHL fans worldwide

October 15, 2011: Los Angeles Kings at Philadelphia Flyers

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    First Star: Matt Carle (1 G, -1)

    Second Star: Justin Williams (2 G, +1)

    Third Star: Jonathan Quick (.941 save percentage) 

    It didn't take long for former Flyers captain Mike Richards to return to Philly and leave his mark. 

    With the always stellar Jonathan Quick in net, Philadelphia tried to overpower Quick with as many shots as possible. 

    After each team scored two goals in the three periods of regulation, the game went into overtime. 

    On a four-man power play in overtime, Richards' "pass" was deflected off of Jack Johnson's stick and past Bryzgalov for the game-winner.  

November 1, 2011: Anaheim Ducks at Washington Capitals

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    First Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2 G, +1)

    Second Star: The Finnish Flash (2 G, 2 A, +3)  

    Third Star: Laich-a-Boss (3 A, +3)

    After Anaheim held a three-goal lead through the game's halfway mark, Washington's offense finally scored on Jonas Hiller in a domino-like fashion. 

    Washington's Joel Ward and Dennis Wideman helped the Caps take a one-goal deficit into the second intermission, only to have former league MVP Corey "Katy" Perry extend the Ducks' lead with a power-play goal. 

    After Perry's wrister on the man-advantage, Brouwer and Backstrom netted the Caps' third and fourth goals, respectively, to force the game into overtime.  

    Backstrom's game-tying effort came with just 42 seconds left in regulation, which he followed with the game-winner just two minutes into overtime. 

November 21, 2011: New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins

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    First Star: The Kid (2 G, 2 A, +3)

    Second Star: Pascal Dupuis (3 A, +3)

    Third Star: Marc-Andre Fluery (1.000 save percentage)  

    The game itself was a rout for Pittsburgh. However, at the time, Penguin fans nationwide rejoiced the jubilant return of captain Sidney Crosby. 

    Crosby is widely considered one of the greatest players in the league, and he did not waste any time racking up points in his first night back in nearly one year. 

    After the fantastic start, Crosby suffered another long-term injury and sat out until March 15th, when he had an even larger breakout

    Penguins fans can only hope their captain stays healthy throughout the 2012-13 NHL season.

    Philadelphia Flyer fans, on the other hand, will continue to chirp at Crosby's "unique" style of play.  

November 23, 2011: Los Angeles Kings at Dallas Stars

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    First Star: Steve Ott (1 G, +1) 

    Second Star: Jamie Benn (1 G, 1A, +2)  

    Third Star: Loui Eriksson (1 G, +1) 

    After the Kings had the only two goals in the first two periods, it seemed as if Jonathan Quick was going to cruise through the third for one of his league-leading 10 shutouts. 

    In the third period, Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson each scored to force the contest into overtime, where the always rowdy Steve Ott polished off the prolific comeback win.  

December 1, 2011: Nashville Predators at Vancouver Canucks

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    First Star: Mike Fisher (2 G, +2)

    Second Star: Henrik (2 A, -1)

    Third Star: Daniel (1 G, 1 A, -1)

    In perhaps the wackiest game of the 2011-12 NHL season, the Canucks and Predators scored 11 combined goals in yet another late-game thriller. 

    Nashville held a two-goal lead heading into the second period, when the Canucks' stoic offense finally caught fire. 

    Vancouver's four goals in just seven minutes was not enough to put Nashville away, as they finished the second period with two goals in the final 80 seconds. 

    The third period was dominated by neutral-zone turnovers and tough defense, only to be finally broken by Mike Fisher's game-winner with less than two minutes to play. 

    There were seven two-minute penalties given throughout the game, five of which allowed a power-play goal. 

December 17, 2011: New York Rangers at Phoenix Coyotes

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    First Star: Lauri Korpikoski (1 G, +1)

    Second Star: Marian Gaborik (2 G, +1)

    Third Star: David Schlemko (-1) 

    In one of the most random NHL matchups conceivable, the Rangers jetted to the desert prior to Christmas to battle the Pacific Division's underdog Phoenix Coyotes. 

    As beautifully depicted in HBO's 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic, a back-and-forth game between the Rangers and Desert Dogs was headed into extra time—all until Brad Richards had a little fun. 

    Knowing that time was a major factor, Richards threw the puck in the general direction of the net and hoped for the best.

    After the puck deflected off of Keith Yandle's leg and somehow got through Mike Smith's pads, there was exactly 0.01 seconds remaining on the clock, giving the Rangers the win. 

    God bless the "WAR Room" in Toronto. 

December 30, 2011: Calgary Flames at Ottawa Senators

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    First Star: Daniel Alfredsson (1 G, -1) 

    Second Star: Erik Karlsson (1 G, 1 A, +1) 

    Third Star: Jay Bouwmeester (1 A, -1)  

    After a first period dominated by Calgary's finest, the Senators found themselves behind 3-0 heading into the second period. 

    Thanks to two goals in the second and Karlsson's unassisted wrister in the third, the Sens fought back and forced the game into overtime.  

    In overtime, Rene Bourque got a two-minute penalty for holding, giving Daniel Alfredsson the perfect opportunity to snipe his 400th career goal for the overtime-winner. 

January 2, 2012: Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park

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    First Star: Mike Rupp (2 G, +2)

    Second Star: Hank (0.944 save percentage)  

    Third Star: Claude Giroux (1 G, even) 

    The 2012 NHL Winter Classic was absolutely amazing. 

    In 60 games played in the 2011-12 NHL season, Mike Rupp tallied a total of five points. 

    Two of those five were the biggest goals of his career, according to Claude Giroux

    Shortly after Claude "G-Sus" Giroux put a nifty backhand past the league's top goaltender, Mike Rupp scored his first of the night to shrink the Flyer lead to one. 

    Five minutes into the third period, both Rupp and Brad Richards scored to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead. 

    With two minutes remaining, Ryan Callahan tried to brush off Kimmo Timonen for an empty-net goal to seal the Rangers win until the referee decided that Callahan "held the stick," giving the Flyers some  four-on-four hockey to work with and a chance to tie the game. 

    How did you feel about the call, Torts? (Signs check for $30,000.)

    Even if the NHL and NBC "conspired" to boost ratings, there is no way they could have predicted the final 10 seconds of the game.

    After the blown call, the Flyers' final effort to even the score forced Rangers defender Ryan McDonagh to place his hand over the puck.

    Any time a defender places his hand over the puck entering the goal, a penalty shot is awarded, giving the Flyers a chance to tie the game with only 10 seconds left. 

    In front of one of the most powerful sports crowds in the country, Danny Briere had the game on his stick facing the league's best goaltender. 

    Briere tried to beat Lundqvist five-hole and failed, sealing the win for New York. 

    In the six heated games between the Rangers and Flyers in the 2011-12 season, the New York Rangers were a perfect 6-0. 

2012 All-Star Game

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    MVP: Marian Gaborik  

    Last Pick of the Draft: Logan Couture

    After the fantasy draft and SuperSkills challenge, the final day of the 2012 All-Star weekend featured the incredible matchup: Team Alfredsson vs. Team Chara. 

    The final score was 12-9, with Marian Gaborik's sniping stealing the show:

      Scored By         Assist(s)   Team (Score)
      M. Gaborik         Datsyuk    Chara (1-0)
      E. Malkin           Iginla    Chara (2-0)
      M. Gaborik     Hossa; Suter    Chara (3-0)
      J. Spezza   Girardi; Michalek Alfredsson (3-1)
       H. Sedin    Hartnell; Letang  Alfredsson (3-2) 
      J. Tavares  Pominville; Yandle  Alfredsson (3-3) 
      M. Gaborik      Hossa; Datsyuk      Chara (4-3) 
        J. Lupul           Kessel      Chara (5-3)
     J. Pominville      Neal; Stamkos  Alfredsson (5-4) 
    D. Alfredsson    Alfredsson (5-5) 
    D. Alfredsson       Sedin Twins  Alfredsson (6-5) 
         P. Kane           Eberle      Chara (6-6) 
       P. Kessel         Campbell      Chara (7-6) 
     M. Michalek   Tavares; Spezza  Alfredsson (7-7) 
         J. Iginla       Malkin; Perry       Chara (8-7) 
        C. Giroux   Hartnell; Couture  Alfredsson (8-8) 
    M. Hossa          Datsyuk   Chara (9-8)
     Z. Chara         Gaborik   Chara (10-8)
     C. Perry    Iginla; Wideman   Chara (11-8)
     Daniel Henrik; Alfredsson    Alfredsson (11-9)
     J. Lupul     Seguin; Kessel   Chara (12-9)

January 31, 2012: Nashville Predators at Minnesota Wild

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    First Star: Dany "I'm an All-Star" Heatley (2 G, 1 A, +1)

    Second Star: Mike Fisher (2 G, -1) 

    Third Star: Cal Clutterbuck (1 G, -1) 

    Once Kyle Brodziak scored 16 seconds into the third period, the Wild had a commanding 4-1 lead against the Nashville Predators. 

    With just 11 minutes left in the game, the Preds opened a flurry of offense beginning with Brendan Yip's first goal of the season. 

    In those final 11 minutes, the Predators scored four even-strength goals to capture an insane comeback win on the road. 

February 2, 2012: Chicago Blackhawks at Edmonton Oilers

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    First Star: Sam Gagner (4 G, 4 A, +6)

    Sam Gagner managed to record a point on all eight Oiler goals, becoming just the second player to accomplish the feat (Super Mario). 

    Remarkably, Gagner's eight-point game was the first in the NHL in 23 years. 

    In the three previous meetings against Chicago, Gagner was held to just one point despite Edmonton outscoring the Hawks 16-11. 

    The eight-point night was worthy enough of being named the only "star" of the game.

March 14, 2012: Colorado Avalanche at Buffalo Sabres

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    First Star: Marcus Foligno (2 G, +3)

    Second Star: Jamie McGinn (2 G, +1)  

    Third Star: Drew Stafford (1 G, 2 A, +3)

    One of the most exciting games of the year featured the Buffalo Sabres and Colorado Avalanche, two teams frequently found outside of playoff contention in 2011-12. 

    After giving up the go-ahead goal just two minutes into the third period, the inexperienced Avalanche had to fight for a game-tying goal with little time remaining.  

    With seven-tenths of a second remaining, Jamie McGinn tapped in a loose puck trickling toward the goal to send the game into overtime. 

    With no score in the five-minute overtime period, the game headed to a shootout, which was eventually decided by Colorado's Peter Mueller—the only goal scored in the shootout. 

    When newly acquired Semyon Varlomov made the final save, he "Jumped in the air like we won the Stanley Cup...It was huge. We never gave up." 

    The dumbfounded Buffalo Sabres were forced to cope with an agonizing defeat, a team which played 21 back-to-back games in the 2011-12 season, which was the most by any team. 

March 18, 2012: Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers

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    First Star: Scott Hartnell (2 G, +1)

    Second Star: Kris Letang (2 A, +1)  

    Third Star: Wayne Simmonds (1 A, even)

    Come-from-behind wins were far too common for the Broad Street Bullies in 2011-12, who were fresh off of a two-goal comeback in Boston before the Pittsburgh Penguins came into town. 

    Riding an 11-game win streak, Dan Byslma's Penguins marched into Philly cocky, confident and ready to take two points from a division rival. 

    After taking a two-goal lead into the third period, the Flyers' offensive surge came from an unlikely source.

    Beginning the period with a man-advantage, Kimmo Timmonen scored to shrink the deficit to one before Scotty Hartnell put the game-tying goal past Marc-Andre Fleury.  

    In a scoreless overtime, Scotty Hartnell sniped the game-winner with just 0.09 seconds remaining, sealing the comeback overtime win and snapping the Penguins' 11-game win streak.  

March 29, 2012: St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks

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    First Star: Andrew Brunette (1 G, -2) 

    Second Star: David Perron (1 G, -1) 

    Third Star: Patty Sharp (1 G, +1) 

    In a truly remarkable season for the Western Conference's Central Division, it seemed as every game between division rivals would end up on this list (sans Columbus, of course).

    Four of the division's five teams managed to rack up over 100 points in the 2011-12 regular season. 

    On March 29th, the Blues traveled 250 miles north and found themselves behind late in the game. 

    The Blues were down 3-1 with just 10 minutes remaining until late goals from Jason Arnott and David Perron forced the game into extra time. 

    After blowing a two-goal lead, Dave Bolland sealed the two-point shootout victory for the Blackhawks, who were crawling closer to clinching a playoff spot.  

April 5, 2012: San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings

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    First Star: Willie Mitchell (3 A, even)

    Second Star: Ryane Clowe (1 G, 1 A, +1)  

    Third Star: Justin Williams (2 G, -1) 

    Once the 2012-13 season schedule is released, make sure and mark down every Sharks-Kings game, as they have one of the most under-appreciated rivalries in the modern NHL. 

    The San Jose Sharks dominated the Kings throughout the regular season, seemingly the only team in the Western Conference to do so. 

    In a pivotal, playoff-esque atmosphere on the road, the Sharks needed to take home two points before they hosted the Kings two days later in the last game of the season. 

    As San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said: "That was a crazy game, man. Down 3-1, we battled back. They got another one. We took the lead. It was a pretty entertaining game for the fans and it was a hard-fought win. We showed a lot of character."

    After 10 goals and 61 penalty minutes, the game would head to a shootout, with the Kings and Jonathan Quick going in as clear favorites. 

    Despite the fact that Quick is virtually unbeatable in the shootout format, Joe Pavelski scored the only shootout goal, sealing the comeback win for the Sharks. 

April 16, 2012: Vancouver Canucks at Los Angeles Kings (Round 1, Game 3)

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    First Star: Jonathan Quick (41-save shutout) 

    Second Star: Dustin Brown (1 G, +1)  

    Third Star: Dan Hamhuis (4 shots on goal) 

    After losing the final two regular-season games to the hated San Jose Sharks, the Kings were forced to battle the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

    In the first two games, the heavily-favored Canucks were purely dominated by the Los Angeles Kings and lost both games by a final score of 4-2. 

    Heading into Game 3, Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault benched Roberto Luongo in favor of promising backup Cory Schneider.

    Schneider shined in stopping 19 of the 20 shots he faced; however, the Canucks' offense was nowhere to be found, and the Kings took p a 3-0 series lead, ultimately winning the series in Game 5. 

April 25, 2012: Washington Capitals at Boston Bruins (Round 1, Game 7)

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    First Star: Joel Ward (1 G, +1)

    Second Star: Tyler Seguin (1 G, even)  

    Third Star: Dennis Seidenberg (3 shots on goal)  

    Sorry Slappy, but the Bruins-Capitals opening series featured truly remarkable hockey.  

    After six games, each team had three one-goal wins, including two in extra time.

    After a first-period goal by the Caps' Matt Hendricks, Tyler Seguin sniped the game-tying goal in the second to even the score and ultimately send the game into extra time. 

    Just two minutes into overtime, Joel Ward put a Mike Knuble rebound past Tim Thomas to send the Capitals into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

    Ward received a massive amount of racist tweets after sending Boston home, sparking controversy as this was simply the latest senseless, racist act against black hockey players in the NHL.  

    Remember the infamous banana thrown at Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds? Oh no, you weren't being racist, you just happened to have a banana at a hockey game. Completely normal. 

April 26, 2012: Ottawa Senators at New York Rangers (Round 1, Game 7)

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    First Star: Hank Lundqvist (.963 save percentage, 26 Saves)

    Second Star: Dan Girardi (1 G, +1)

    Third Star: Marc Staal (1 G, +1)

    After a scoreless first period, the Broadway Blue-Liners, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, netted the Rangers' only two goals of the game.

    Following a Michael Del-Zotto tripping call, Senators superstar Daniel Alfredsson sniped the Sens' first goal to shrink the Rangers' lead to one. 

    Unfortunately, that was the only goal to get past the heroic Henrik Lundqvist, whose 26 saves sent the Rangers past the No. 8-seeded Senators in seven games. 

April 26, 2012: New Jersey Devils at Florida Panthers (Round 1, Game 7)

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    First Star: Adam Henrique (2 G, +2)

    Second Star: Marty Brodeur (.956 save percentage, 43 Saves)

    Third Star: Jose Theodore (.917 save percentage, 33 Saves)

    After a brutal six games, both teams recorded three wins on 15 goals, forcing the always exciting Game 7.

    Despite trailing 2-0 heading into the third period, the Panthers' offense caught fire and capitalized on two power-play opportunities to force the game into overtime. 

    Three minutes into the second overtime period, Adam "The Future" Henrique sniped the Devils into the second round of the playoffs.   

    Panthers netminder Jose Theodore admitted mistakes, saying: "Always in overtime it’s one shot away...We had our chances. We missed a couple, they missed a couple. But they capitalized on their last one."

The Entire Flyers-Penguins Series

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    The entire series was absolutely incredible: 

     First Star
    Penguins 3   Flyers 4 (OT)  B. Schenn
    Penguins 5   Flyers    8 S. Couturier
      Flyers 8 Penguins    4   D. Briere
      Flyers 3 Penguins   10   J. Staal
    Penguins 3   Flyers    2   M. Fleury
      Flyers 5 Penguins    1   C. Grioux

    Diehard hockey fans worldwide couldn't have asked for a better series than the absolutely insane Penguins-Flyers six-game opening-round series. Well, Penguins fans could've asked for a better series. 

    Regardless, the Flyers and Penguins exchanged everything from bone-crushing hits to video game-esque scoring seemingly every shift of every game. 

    Claude Grioux purely stole the show, as he revealed a lethal combination of talent, leadership and poise throughout the entire series—no shift more brilliant than the opening shift in Game 6:

    "I don't know who you plan on starting tonight" Grioux told head coach Peter Laviolette, "But I want that first shift."

    On the opening faceoff, Giroux leveled Penguins captain Sidney Crosby right in front of his own bench, then sniped the first goal on Marc-Andre Fleury.

    There is absolutely no better way to start a pivotal game than the way Game 6 in Philadelphia started.

May 22, 2012: Los Angeles Kings at Phoenix Coyotes (WCF Game 5)

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    First Star: Dustin "Pancakes" Penner (1 G, 1 A, even)

    Second Star: Drew Doughty (1 G, 1 A, +1)

    Third Star: Mike Richards (1 G, even)

    After dominating the Canucks, Blues and now the Phoenix Coyotes, the Los Angeles Kings stormed into Game 5 at an incredible 11-2 in the playoffs. 

    Before losing Game 4 to Phoenix, the Kings won eight straight playoff games. 

    In Game 5, the Yotes opened up the scoring at the 4:20 mark with a power-play goal from Taylor Pyatt.

    Anze Kopitar answered Pyatt's opener with a short-handed goal to tie the game at the end of the first period. 

    In the second, both teams scored twice to send the 3-3 contest into the third period, where neither team could find a way to score.

    After a grueling 17-minute overtime period, the Kings Dustin Penner found himself in the right place at the right time and put a rebound past Mike Smith to send the Kings to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993.

    Following the game, "Coyotes Martin Hanzal skated aggressively toward a referee, goalie Mike Smith threw his stick and Keith Yandle was quoted as saying the referees worked as teammates with the Kings."

    The NHL filed an investigative report three days after the conference finals to see if there was any actuality to the Coyotes' allegations. 

Kings Crowned Champions

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    Team MVP: Jonathan Quick  

    After waxing the Western Conference (12-2 record), the Kings had to pile four more wins against Martin Brodeur's New Jersey Devils. 

    The Kings took the first two games with a 2-1 overtime win before taking Game 3 4-0 back at home. 

    After nearly missing the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs completely, the No. 8 seed Los Angeles Kings had a chance to improve their playoff record to 16-2 and clinch their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. 

    Thankfully, for NHL fans worldwide, the Devils took Games 4 and 5, giving the Kings a bit of a challenge. 

    In Game 6 back at Staples Center, the Kings capitalized on a five-minute game misconduct penalty on former Sharks forward Steve Bernier and completed the Cinderella-story Stanley Cup victory—their first Championship in 45 years.  

    Too bad the "Los Angeles Kings Faithful" still think the Lakers won another NBA title...

    @kevry88 on Twitter.