It was a long and tiresome journey in 2013 for the Los Angeles Kings, and it has finally come to a close. In the Western Conference Final the defending champs were ousted in five games by the No. 1 seed Chicago Blackhawks.
It was a long and brutal postseason with the team facing three quality opponents and overcoming two of them. Unlike the somewhat easy and dominant road the team traversed in 2012, this one was filled with injuries, setbacks and some long and exhausting series.
Despite being eliminated short of their goal, the Kings proved a lot to the hockey world with an inspired defense of their 2012 title. What exactly did they prove? Take a look.
Analysts and players alike talk about how incredibly difficult it is in the modern NHL to repeat as champions. Heck, it's a difficult thing to do in any sport. The NHL is a real animal though, and the parity within the league is tremendous.
Despite being knocked out in the conference final, the Kings put up a valiant effort and had many people believing that a repeat could be in the books. However, the team never quite picked up the form that carried them to a 2012 title. Many key performers were missing or injured during this run that limited the firepower of the team.
That being said, they were realistically a few bounces and one key game away from making it to the Stanley Cup Final for a second straight year. What if the Kings had won Game 5 in overtime and sent the series back to Los Angeles? What if Brown and Doughty weren't hurt? What if Kopitar wasn't slumping? What if Kane didn't come alive in Game 4?
It really was a series that was much closer than it looked in a box score, and the Kings made the impossible look a little more possible. Ultimately they fell short, but they went a long way in proving that a well-built team will prevail most times and could have a legitimate shot at repeating as champions.
If I told you the team's leading scorer in the playoffs would be a defenseman, you'd automatically think Drew Doughty, right? Wrong. Enter Slava Voynov, the 23-year-old second-round pick of 2008.
Was there a player that had a bigger breakout postseason than young Slava Voynov? Not only was he the team's leading goal scorer (tied with Jeff Carter and Justin Williams with six), he tied with Carter for the most points on the Kings with 13 points in 18 games.
Voynov was tied for 10th overall in playoff scoring and was second overall amongst defensemen behind Kris Letang.
He had a league-leading four game-winning goals and was a team-leading plus-nine (tied with Rob Scuderi) while playing nearly 22 minutes a night.
Voynov is a restricted free agent now, and he is going to get a massive pay raise from Dean Lombardi. After this postseason, though, the young defenseman deserves it as it looks like he is on the cusp of possibly being one of the premier defensemen in the league.
Let's be frank: The Kings got terrible performances from their top players. Injuries to Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty and Jarret Stoll severely limited their impact. A horrific slump from top center Anze Kopitar and extremely hot-and-cold performances from Jeff Carter didn't help either.
However, this team still found a way to win.
It wasn't quite the complete team effort of last year and that's why they aren't moving on, but they still got some tremendous performances out of depth players.
Dustin Penner had a good solid postseason, as did the young rookies like Tyler Toffoli and Jake Muzzin. While their contributions may go unnoticed, players like Dwight King, Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford did what they could to carry the team while the top players were down.
In a perfect world the Kings would have had an entirely healthy and hot lineup, but they didn't. Even though they didn't, they still found themselves just three wins from a second Stanley Cup Final due in large part to the depth the franchise has.
Yes, ultimately Quick had a rather poor Game 5 performance and was pretty hard on himself after the fact in this Los Angeles Times piece by Lisa Dillman.
But overall, you can't say enough about how Quick bounced back from a poor regular season and carried his team through the first two rounds. With unorthodox and acrobatic saves that rival those of Dominik Hasek in his day and clutch game- and series-defining saves, Jonathan Quick again proved he might be one of the best goaltenders in the league, if not the best.
Yes, you can talk about Henrik Lundqvist all you like and no doubt the man is a tremendous goaltender. However, Quick time after time continues to put his team on his back and comes up with world-class saves that win you trophies.
There is a formula for success here in Los Angeles and it is being built, and has been built, on the back of a still young and talented core.
The Kings are the fifth-youngest team in the league with a contract situation that is very workable. They have talented young pieces on defense with Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov and Jake Muzzin with more talent like Derek Forbort and Kevin Gravel still waiting to emerge.
Let's also not forget that Kopitar is still just 25, and only three of their major forwards are over the age of 30 (Justin Williams, Dustin Penner, Jarret Stoll). Youth is still on the way as we got a small glimpse of Tanner Pearson and a very solid look at the skill set Tyler Toffoli will bring.
With coach Darryl Sutter implementing his rigorous defensive scheme, this team always has a chance to win, especially when they have Jonathan Quick in net.
They have all the things that you could desire in a perennial contender: youth, talent, salary cap safety, experience and a culture of winning.
The Los Angeles Kings will be back soon.