The Los Angeles Kings won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history with a 6-1 victory in Game 6 over the New Jersey Devils, and in the process becoming the first No. 8 seed to ever win the most historic trophy in all of sports.
Kings win their first Stanley Cup title in franchise's 44th season (longest wait in NHL history for a franchise's first Cup title)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 11, 2012
If you told sports fans on the streets of Los Angeles in early April that the city would have a championship parade in June, I doubt many of them would have thought that the celebration would be for their hockey club. A party for the Lakers, and even the Clippers, would have been more likely.
The Kings finished third in the Pacific Division and barely squeaked into the playoffs, but they proved that once you enter the 16-team tournament, all bets are off.
Let's examine the key parts of the Kings' remarkable and unexpected run to the summit of professional hockey.
The best No. 8 seed in sports history
After securing their first Stanley Cup championship, there is no debate that the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings are the best eighth seed in sports history:
Kings are the 1st 8-seed to win the Stanley Cup since the conference-based playoff format was introduced in 1994— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 11, 2012
Even though the NHL has seen more eighth seeds have success than those in the NBA, as James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail points out, the Kings have been far more successful than most:
The vast, vast majority are eliminated in the first two rounds (94%). They even drop out in the first round 74 per cent of the time.
Including this season, there have been 36 eighth seeded teams under this format. Four have failed to win a game in the playoffs (11%), another eight have won just one game (22%) and another 11 on top of that have won just two games (30.6%).
Need further proof that the Kings are the best No. 8 ever? The Kings and the '89 Calgary Flames are the only teams to defeat the top three seeds in their conference playoffs.
Los Angeles defeated the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks in five games in the opening round, dominated the No. 2 seed St. Louis Blues in a second-round sweep, and ended the Phoenix Coyotes' surprising playoff run in five games to win the West.
To barely make the playoffs and then run through the Western Conference's best shows you just how amazing LA's playoff run was:
The @LAKings are only the second #8 seed in NHL history to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. It's the Kings first trip back since 1993.— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) May 23, 2012
The Kings are a perfect example that anything is possible in hockey postseason.
The Kings' road dominance in the playoffs is arguably the most impressive part of their championship run. Their Game 5 loss in the finals was the only road defeat during their title march, and for the entire postseason, the Kings were a stunning 10-1 away from Staples Center.
There are several different reasons for the Kings' success on the road.
Most obvious is the play of goaltender Jonathan Quick (explained in depth below). Another reason for their road success was their phenomenal penalty kill. The Kings finished the playoffs with the second-best penalty-killing percentage in the playoffs, and also scored five short-handed goals.
The Kings made some road history in the playoffs, as ESPN's John Buccigross notes:
Kings- 1st team under the current playoff format to go undefeated on road en route to an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final #elias— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) May 23, 2012
The Kings also tied the playoff record for most consecutive road wins in one postseason:
First road loss for Kings in postseason (were 10-0). 10-game road win streak was tied for most in single postseason in NHL history— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 10, 2012
Quite an accomplishment. The Kings' road success is something we may never see again for a long time, and it's a testament to their great preparation and focus away from the comforts of home and Staples Center.
Legendary performance from Jonathan Quick
The best player in Los Angeles sports is not Lakers star Kobe Bryant or the Dodgers' Matt Kemp, it's Jonathan Quick, who became the second straight American goalie to win the Conn Smythe.
Quick was the most dominant player of the postseason, evidenced by his fantastic stats outlined below:
|Jonathan Quick Stats||W||L||GAA||SV%||SO|
Quick improved his GAA and save percentage by considerable margins in the playoffs from the regular season, which is quite impressive when you consider that he had never been to the second round beforehand. Quick is now the best goaltender in the NHL and will hopefully get the opportunity to represent the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Something to prove
The Flyers Duo Together Again
Sometimes the toughest teams to beat are the ones with several star players with something to prove. The Philadelphia Flyers decided to take a chance when they traded star forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to the Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets, respectively, last summer. The two were reunited at the trade deadline when the Blue Jackets dealt Carter to the Kings.
There's no question that Richards and Carter started this season with something to prove. They were determined to prove that they could be key contributors to a championship team.
Richards was a physical force and a leader throughout the playoffs, while Carter scored the OT winner in Game 2 of the cup final, adding a hat trick in the Game 6 clincher.
A defenseman reborn
Drew Doughty played like he did for Team Canada during their gold medal triumph at the 2010 Olympics this postseason for the Kings.
He finished the playoffs with four goals and 12 assists, and emerged as a legitimate Conn Smythe Trophy candidate while proving why he's arguably the best young defenseman in the NHL.
When the Los Angeles Kings were struggling mightily in December, it was clear that a head coaching change was the only way for the team's struggles to end.
Terry Murray wasn't motivating his players, he wasn't finding ways for the team's dreadful offense to score more goals consistently, and he wasn't getting the most out of star players like young defenseman Drew Doughty.
The Kings' decision on whom to hire for their next coach would make or break their season. The talent was there, but there wasn't a leader who could push the right buttons. General manager Dean Lombardi saved his job by hiring veteran coach Darryl Sutter, whose arrival behind the bench paid immediate dividends in Hollywood.
Sutter led them from the outside of the playoff chase in January to a postseason berth thanks to a 25-17-7 record since taking over. Sutter's demanding style and zero tolerance for anything less than 100 percent effort has transformed the Kings into one of the hardest-working teams in hockey.
Sutter is a very composed character behind the bench. He doesn't get too excited or too down, he is consistently focused and doesn't panic. Hiring Sutter was a key moment in the Kings' turnaround, and his ability to get the most out of his stars proved to be the difference for a team that had underachieved the past few seasons.
A run for the ages
The Kings weren't the favorites to win their own division, let alone the Stanley Cup, but they played like champions throughout the playoffs and are fully deserving of their title.
They put their previous failures in the past and broke down every barrier, accepted every challenge and overcame all the obstacles that came before them. The Kings have proven that even as an eighth seed, winning the Stanley Cup is certainly a realistic possibility.
Will we see future eighth seeds have more success because of this Kings' title run? Maybe, but LA has certainly given hopes to underdogs everywhere.
The city of Los Angeles is about to have another June celebration, but this time, it will be a Stanley Cup celebration for the Kings after their Cinderella run to glory.