The Los Angeles Kings' Road to the 2014 Stanley Cup
The comeback Kings knew only one way to win their second Stanley Cup in three years: from behind. Whether it was being down zero games to three against the San Jose Sharks in the first round or dropping three games in a row to the Anaheim Ducks in Round 2, the Kings dug a grave seemingly for themselves only to pull a bait and switch and hurl their opponents under the earth.
The Kings became the only team in NHL history to play 21 games through the first three rounds and actually advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. And though they played from behind in Games 1 and 2 at home against the New York Rangers, their sweep of the Rangers was so non-Kingly. A four-game sweep? Where's the fun in that?
Through two months of the playoffs, Kings fans are lucky have to any nails above the cuticle. Knowing the result of this long, long ride will take the suspense and the stress out of reliving it.
The road the Kings took started in San Jose, where it looked like it would also end. Read on to take the road less traveled, now worn to the dirt by those comeback Kings.
April 24: Game 4 vs. San Jose—The Unusual Offensive Outburst
Down 0-3, what's to lose? The Kings had scored just nine goals through the first three games being out-scored by the Sharks 17-8. The Kings hadn't scored more than three goals in a single game. That was until Game 4 in its first of many elimination games over the course of these playoffs.
The Kings, led by forward Justin Williams, scored three goals in the second period to put distance between them and the Sharks en route to a 6-3 victory. Williams scored two goals in the win, his first ones of the postseason.
"We're trying to just make it a series now," Williams told The Associated Press. "It's obviously not like a Game 7, but it was do or die for us, so we had to lay that on the line. It wasn't your typical Kings game."
But it was like a Game 7 because losing meant a tee time at the nearby golf course. Instead the "unusual offensive burst" propelled the Kings to an emphatic Game 5.
April 26: Game 5 vs. San Jose Sharks—The Shutout
The Kings had staved off elimination with an emphatic 6-3 win in Game 4. They had allowed 23 goals through that four-game stretch and still had a pulse. That's not exactly a Quickensian bout of goaltending. The real Jonathan Quick stood up in Game 5.
The Kings went to San Jose and blanked its hot offense to win 3-0 and send Game 6 back to LA. They were just a single game from forcing a Game 7 and two away from advancing.
"If anything, it seems a little more daunting because we came this far to get two, now we need to take two more," defenseman Drew Doughty told the AP. "It puts more pressure on us because we can kind of smell it. We can't get ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of work ahead of us."
The Kings jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period while Quick made 30 saves on the night.
"We had a good start," Quick said. "We got a few shifts and we just tried to keep building on it. They came with a lot, too. They had a big pushback. It's not easy to win against this team. They're a great team for a reason."
The Kings would win Game 6 and force a Game 7 where Quick came up big yet again.
April 30: Game 7 vs. San Jose Sharks—Quick's Glove Save
Having a goalie named Quick is like an arm wrestler named Armstrong. And Jonathan Quick—who has made countless saves in these playoffs—made his best one against San Jose.
The Kings already came back from down 0-3 to force a Game 7. The score was 1-1 in the second period and the Sharks were on the power play looking to take the lead for the second time that night. Quick made a save and the puck kicked out to his left. San Jose's Patrick Marleau corralled it and leveled a perfect shot to the lower 90. Quick snapped up the puck in his glove.
The officials reviewed the play and upheld it as a save.
Perhaps this goal would have blown the game open for San Jose. Maybe that was all it took to squash the Kings dead on the ice. But Quick made that game-changing save to keep the score tied. Los Angeles won and went on to face the top-seeded Anaheim Ducks.
May 12: Game 5 vs. Anaheim Ducks—Kings Drop Three in a Row
Dating back to the Game 4 of the first round, the Kings went on a six-game winning streak, taking the final four of the first round and the first two of the second round against the Anaheim Ducks. Maybe that scare in the first round was the spark to ignite a cataclysmic run through to the Stanley Cup.
The Ducks rattled off wins in Games 3, 4 and 5 to put the Kings into elimination territory yet again. In Game 5, Los Angeles allowed three goals in the second period en route to a 4-3 loss.
"Tonight isn't about the third (period), it's about the second," Kings captain Dustin Brown told the AP. "We made too many easy mistakes, and we had to try to come back the way we did. It's too hard."
The Kings led in the shot column 42-24. To leave Anaheim with only three goals on that many attempts was discouraging, to put it mildly.
Fortunately for LA, they were...
May 14: Game 6 vs. Anaheim Ducks—"Built to Play in These Kind of Games"
The Kings faced their fourth elimination game of the playoffs and responded with a win in Game 6. The Kings defeated Anaheim, 2-1, on goals from Trevor Lewis and Jake Muzzin.
The Kings never felt the pressure. Either that or they've just become immune to it. In this instance, they're kind of one and the same. Keep traumatizing bone and it builds more bone. In fact they played as if the weight of the world were on the other team's shoulders. It was on them to advance while it was on the Kings to merely survive. Some teams simply know how to win. And what don't kill you, makes you more strong.
"Our team is built to play in these kinds of games," Doughty told the AP. "Our leaders show the way, and everyone follows. We look forward to playing in these games. We're not nervous."
Quick allowed just one goal and turned away 21 of 22 shots on the night setting up another elimination game and...
May 16: Game 7 vs. Anaheim Ducks—The Rout
The Kings faced their second road Game 7. They had disposed of the Sharks and now it was time to finish off this game of Duck Hunt.
The Kings took advantage of a three-goal outburst in the first period to set the tone for a dominating Game 7. Jonathan Quick improved his record to 3-0 in Game 7s and the Kings improved to 6-0 in elimination games through only two rounds of play.
"It's hard to say what it is, but it's all in this room," Anze Kopitar, the Kings' leading scorer, told the AP. "We don't look outside too much. We believe in this room. We knew this would have to be our best game of the series, and it was."
The Ducks never had a chance. Justin Williams scored four minutes and 30 seconds into the game with two more goals followed by Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.
Waiting for the Kings would be the defending Stanley Cup Champions: the Chicago Blackhawks.
May 21: Game 2 vs. Chicago Blackhawks—Five Goals in the Third Period
The Kings dropped Game 1 to the Blackhawks in Chicago and needed a win to even up the series. Weeks and weeks of falling behind would no longer be acceptable. In Game 2 the Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the third period and it looked as if they'd head to LA with a two games to none lead.
The Kings then had their most explosive scoring period of the entire playoffs, burying five goals in the third period to win 6-2.
Jeff Carter scored half of the team's goals to notch a hat trick and send the Kings back to LA even at 1-1.
"Just sticking with what we need to do," Carter told the AP. "You know, we got a good group of leaders in our room. We've been through comebacks and whatnot a lot lately. Obviously, not something we want to do. But we stick with it, grind it out, get the job done."
Carter scored the first of his three goals one minute and 37 seconds into the period, squaring the score at two apiece and seizing control of the game.
"We knew the third period was going to be our best period in this series so far," Doughty said. "We were just adamant in here about coming out, taking the pressure, getting a goal early and we did that."
May 30: Game 6 vs. Chicago Blackhawks—"Not Going to Blow a Third One"
The Kings had two chances to eliminate the Blackhawks in Game 5 (a double-overtime loss) and in a 4-3 loss in Game 6 where they had the lead with under nine minutes to play.
Chicago's Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane scored within five minutes of each other to take the 4-3 lead and force a Game 7 back in Chicago—another elimination game for the Kings.
"I'm frustrated, but I'm over it pretty quickly," Doughty told the AP. "And we've got another game to play, Game 7. We've had two chances to close out this series, and we are not going to blow a third one."
June 1: Game 7 vs. Chicago Blackhawks—21 Games in Three Rounds
The Kings made it 3-0 in Game 7s in the 2014 playoffs. By virtue of that they became just the third team to play the maximum 21 games in three rounds, but they stand alone as the only team to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. (The 2002 Avalanche and 1993 Maple Leafs are the other two teams.)
"We've battled back so many times this year and so many times in these playoffs, we said, 'Why not again today?'" Justin Williams told the AP. "It was a total team effort, every single guy here giving everything they've got."
The Kings forced overtime when Marian Gaborik scored with seven minutes and 17 seconds remaining in the third period. In that sudden-death overtime, Alec Martinez scored at the 5:37 mark to vault his team to a 5-4 win and its second Stanley Cup Final in three years.
Jonathan Quick improved to 4-0 in Game 7s while tallying 37 saves in the win. He told the AP:
It's just a great group to be part of. I feel very fortunate to be with the guys. Obviously our journey's not done yet and we've got a lot of work here coming up. New York's an awesome team. They beat great teams, so they're battle-tested as well so we've got a lot to get ready for.
Waiting for them in LA would be the New York Rangers, who were making their first finals appearance since winning the Cup 20 years ago.
June 4: Game 1 vs. New York Rangers—Still ... Coming ... Back ...
Yawn...just kidding, just kidding.
In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals the Los Angeles Kings wasted little time falling behind two goals to none. Just over 15 minutes is all it took for the Rangers to get their fanbase all kinds of excited. At this point, why give the Kings a deficit? Didn't they get the memo?
The Kings cut the lead in half in the first period and evened it in the second. Then, four minutes and 36 seconds into overtime Justin Williams scored his eighth goal of the playoffs to give the Kings yet another comeback victory. Williams said afterward:
It certainly helps that we've done it time and time again. It's a great result of the hockey game for us, definitely, but we have a lot of things to clean up. Certainly not our best game by any standards, especially ours, but we were able to get it done. That's the most important thing.
Williams has earned the nickname "Mr. Game 7" for his propensity for coming up big in the clutch. His teammate Willie Mitchell said, "There's a handful of guys who raise their game this time of year. He's one of them, and we're lucky to have him. ... I want him to be Mr. Game 1, 2, 3 and 4. We need four wins."
And now the Kings are closer than ever.
June 9: Game 3 vs. New York Rangers—What Happened at 19:59.93
Jeff Carter scored his 10th goal of the playoffs. Impressive as that is, it's the timing of that 10th goal that crushed the Rangers. Carter scored with .07 seconds left in the first period of Game 3 to give his team a 1-0 lead.
Hockey commentators were spouting afterward that, for the Rangers, this was a violation of a cardinal rule: allowing a goal in the final seconds of a period. It can be a back breaker for one team and a momentum gainer for another. The latter happened as the Kings blanked the Rangers in Game 3, 3-0, and sat on the brink of a sweep.
"Well, we know it's possible," Mike Richards said. "The last game is always the hardest. We played a good game. We're going to have to play a better game if we're going to want to have success."
These Kings know a thing or two about closing out a series...
June 13: Game 5 vs. New York Rangers—It's Over-Time
The Kings relished overtime in these Stanley Cup Finals, winning Games 1 and 2 in a combined three overtimes. Naturally, their Cup-clinching 3-2 victory in Game 5 went into double overtime as well.
Friday the 13th was, contrary to popular culture, a lucky day for the Kings (and by extension, it was unlucky for the Rangers. Such is life.).
Alec Martinez buried a rebound in the second overtime to beat the incredible Henrik Lundqvist (48 saves).
Justin Williams scored his ninth goal of the playoffs six minutes and four seconds into the first period. Marion Gaborik, a former Ranger, knocked in a rebound on a power play, scoring his 14th goal of the postseason seven minutes and 56 seconds into the third period, to knot the score at two.
The Kings overcame a power play goal by New York's Chris Kreider 15 minutes and 37 seconds into the second period. The Kings also snuffed what could have been a game-changer when New York netted a short-handed goal to take the lead, 2-1, in the waning seconds of the second period.
The comeback Kings did it again.