The Los Angeles Kings were crowned Stanley Cup champions following Friday's 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers in double overtime.
Although the NHL postseason finale was wrapped up in five games, this series was far closer than the bottom-line result indicated. NHL.com's Drew Rosen expressed gratitude for how thrilling these playoffs were:
I don't think I'll ever be lucky enough to cover another postseason quite like this one. It was 100 times more of a privilege than a grind.— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) June 14, 2014
Three of L.A.'s four wins came in overtime, with its only dominant performance being Game 3's impressive 3-0 shutout at Madison Square Garden. What separated these two clubs was simply clutch plays in big moments from the Kings.
Right winger Justin Williams emerged with the Conn Smythe Trophy, but there were others who contributed heavily to the cause. The fine line between victory and defeat was glaring in this year's Stanley Cup, leaving the Blueshirts disheartened after such a valiant effort to fight this far.
Let's take a look at the top performers from the Kings' second run to capture Lord Stanley's Cup in the past three years.
Justin Williams, RW
Starting with the obvious, Williams won the award given annually to the NHL playoff MVP. It was a well deserved accolade, as the All-Star racked up nine goals and 16 assists.
Former Kings star and current assistant general manager Rob Blake offered high praise for Williams.
"He’s one of the most clutch players that ever played the game," said Blake, per ESPN.com's Craig Custance. "Guys just have that mentality they want to be the guy. Other guys play to be safe."
Williams saved his best for last, as ESPN's John Buccigross pointed out:
Justin Williams wins Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Led all players with 7 points in final (2G, 5A). Had 25 points (9G, 16A) in playoffs— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) June 14, 2014
The higher the stakes, the better Williams seems to play. He helped set the tone of the Final by scoring the Game 1 overtime winner. Without that, this series could have easily gone in the Rangers' favor. There is no question that Williams has an uncanny knack for willing greatness to happen when his team needs it.
But according to Williams himself, luck has nothing to do with it, per The Record's Tom Gulitti:
Justin Williams: "Puck luck is for cop-outs. I don't believe in that at all. I'm a true believer that you get what you put into it."— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) June 12, 2014
Hard not to believe Williams' words, which are backed up by his game on the ice. That does all the talking for him.
Marian Gaborik, RW
There was no genuflecting for the King Gaborik en route to the first Stanley Cup Final triumph of his career.
Given his gaudy status as a former top-three draft pick, it's a surprise that Gaborik has never registered a 100-point season. Perhaps such a year is on the horizon after his playoff display.
Gaborik had an uneven stint with the Columbus Blue Jackets, prompting a deadline trade to the City of Angels. Rather stellar production ensued for the rest of the regular season, but the 32-year-old veteran took his game to a whole different stratosphere in the games that mattered most.
The timing couldn't have been better on Gaborik's 14th and final goal of the playoffs, which served as the equalizer in the decisive Game 5:
Scoring that often in addition to notching eight assists in 22 playoff contests showed the type of skill Gaborik possesses when he's in his element. The right situation presented itself for Gaborik with the Kings, and he's taken full advantage of an organizational environment that's seemed to revitalize him.
Now that he's proved himself in the biggest spotlight possible, Gaborik shouldn't be seen as a short-term rental option anymore. Someone should pay him handsomely in free agency if he keeps his postseason momentum going into next season.
Jonathan Quick, G
Looking at the statistics alone, Quick's goals-against average is a modest 2.58 for the postseason. However, he was magnificent in some of the most important stretches of hockey in franchise history.
Having the focus to hang tough while knowing his prolific counterpart in Lundqvist wasn't going to give ground confirms Quick is truly among the league's elite at his position. This is a team that rode him all regular season and saw Quick become a brick wall between the pipes so often.
Prominent TV personality Jimmy Fallon analyzed Quick's brilliance:
32 Quick - unbelievable goalie. Congrats Kings. Well deserved. @NYRangers did NOT make it easy though. Great game.— jimmy fallon (@jimmyfallon) June 14, 2014
The Kings allowed the fewest goals in the NHL in 2013-14. They then rewarded Quick by giving him more offensive production in the postseason. Without him, though, this Stanley Cup title would not have been possible.
When will the Kings win their next Stanley Cup?
At age 28 with two Cups already under his belt, there may be nowhere for Quick to go but down. That could have been true following this last season when he registered a 2.07 GAA, yet he stepped up often enough to raise pro hockey's ultimate prize.
Quick is still the foundation upon which L.A.'s success is built. He proved once again how vital good goalie play is in the postseason and how it can be the ultimate determinant for a team's fate. As long as Quick is minding the Kings' net, they should continue to enjoy sustained status as one of the NHL's premier clubs.
What the Kings must focus on is building a more formidable, consistent lineup in the offseason. The more goal support Quick has, the easier his job becomes. Re-signing Gaborik has to be a sudden priority, but there are enough players in L.A.'s current nucleus who have proved capable of stepping up. Therefore, it'd be unwise to count the Kings out to win another Stanley Cup within the next few years.