The Los Angeles Kings are your 2012 Stanley Cup champions.
Many hockey fans expected the above line to come to fruition when predictions were filed away in September but the journey to which they got there was not nearly as clean cut as expected.
The 2012 Kings are a catch-22 for parity in the modern NHL. At a time when teams across the league have never been more closely matched, the Kings found a way to dominate the opposition in crunchtime — the Stanley Cup playoffs. They rolled through the President’s Trophy winning Canucks, they trounced the impervious Blues, they bullied the stubborn Coyotes, and as an eight seed no less.
The Kings were unstoppable. “Mission 16W” — as the 2001 Colorado Avalanche called it — may very well be the toughest accomplishment in all of sports, but it never seemed that way for Los Angeles. What started as surprise in Vancouver ended up being expectation in Los Angeles as the Kings continued to find ways to win without making things hard on themselves 16 times in 20 tries.
To juxtapose them with the 2011 Bruins, Los Angeles looks as though they cakewalked through a league of powderpuffs.
Yet, they did it all as the eight seed, validating them as the curious paradox that they are. A team starved for offense through 82 games — despite being loaded with talent –had to fight tooth and nail for the right to play for Lord Stanley’s mug, let alone snatch it from those higher than them on the totem pole in stunning fashion.
It was a predictable ending with a whirlwind plot. Somewhere in Los Angeles, M. Night Shyamalan is perplexed.
The opening goal yielded the almighty win in the final series, and it was clear that once Steve Bernier was sent off for the Devils amidst controversy that the series was ready to wrap itself up. A Dustin Brown goal one minute into the major penalty was the sign from P.J. Stock’s hockey gods and the Kings kept on coming as they have throughout the playoffs. Tallies from Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis before the five minutes had expired were all they would ever need with Jonathan Quick in goal.
Quick was the constant for them over the span of nine months, turning aside puck after puck and making sure that each game only needed two goals to win. The wins didn’t come easy for six of those months, but the last three were his show. Plenty of theories were bandied about on how you score him — “Shoot high, shoot quick, shoot through screens” — yet, no matter how high you shot or how quickly you shot or how many people were there in front of him when you shot, he found a way to let that puck hit him 30 or 40 or 50 times until the boys in front of him broke through. Nothing validates that effort like a win and a trophy.
The Kings won 16 times. Quick has his Conn Smythe and a ring fitting booked.
The Devils scoring to end the second period — Adam Henrique, no less — set up the perfect ending to this season in a way. Those “glue” guys we hear about in the key moments for L.A. came through. Lewis potted his second and Matt Greene iced the game. But what will be bolded and itlalicized on history’s scoresheet means much more to the 2011-12 season.
GWG: Jeff Carter
That was the moment it seemed to turn around. When Carter donned the black and silver for the first time, the Kings, under Darryl Sutter, found their swagger and began to inch closer and closer to the playoffs. While there were plenty lined up to ridicule the acquisition for an overpaid troublemaker who isn’t capable of making a difference, it was ultimately move that paid off for the Kings. With Carter up front and Slava Voynov pencilled in to the depth chart, the Kings were ready to finally show off what we knew they had in them all along.
Now, Mike Richards can add that last piece missing from his trophy case thanks to his old pal.
As the Stanley Cup is turned into the world’s most irregular champagne bottle, the Los Angeles Kings reign over the NHL for at least one year. They were the team with the best players and goaltenders, the best management and coaching, just as you would expect from the champions of any league. But, a bounce here or there between October and April and they don’t even get a shot, they’re saying ‘Congrats’ instead of saying ‘Thanks’. There’s a fine line in this league between excellence and mediocrity in this league. The Los Angeles Kings are living, partying proof.
That’s your average season in the NHL.