To think some started to say this was becoming a series. The Los Angeles Kings put to rest any notion of a collapse with a 6-1 thrashing of the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals to claim the franchise’s 1st every Stanley Cup. And they did so in convincing fashion, with a 16-4 overall record, including an insane 10-1 record away from Staples Center. Much has been said and written about the stars and role players who made this Championship possible, but four player’s stars were either born or intensified this postseason. Leading the way, as he has all year, was Conn Smythe winning goaltender Jonathan Quick. Quick has been sensational all playoffs, but few realize he was historically sensational as the ultra-athletic American’s GAA of 1.41 is the best for a 16 win Cup Champion. Center Anze Kopitar, previous thought of as a rising star in the league, and Winger Dustin Brown, the gritty leader of the team, ended the playoffs tied for the leader in every major offensive category (each finished with 8 Goals and 12 Assists), solidly placing them among the NHL’s elite. Also solidifying himself in the upper echelon of the sport was smooth puck handler Drew Doughty. Doughty led the Kings in ice time and in points among defenseman while playing a perfectly balanced offense and defensive postseason run. (On a side note, the Devils also had a star born, as clutch rookie Adam Henrique looks poised to become a perennial All Star).
The story of the 2012 LA Kings does not end though with Quick, Brown, Kopitar, and Doughty. Let’s not forget, Head Coach Darryl Sutter was a midseason hire. The no-nonsense aggressive coach was exactly what the King’s needed and his impact cannot be ignored in helping the Kings become the 1st ever 8th seed to win the Cup. In addition, just this past offseason, the Philadelphia Flyers, as starved as anyone for a Cup, decided that the core of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter could not win a Championship. Less than a year later, as members of the Kings, Mike Richards finished behind only Kopitar and Brown in assists for the playoffs and Jeff Carter scored 2 goals, including the winner, in the deciding Game 6. And as a symbol of their journey from Scapegoats on Broad Street to Cup Champs in Tinsel town, Richards handed the Cup to his good friend Carter in the post game celebration. And no discussion of the Cup Celebration can be had without discussing the order of the Cup handoff, a longtime tradition that speaks to the respect teammates have for each other. After Brown became the 2nd American to lift the Cup as Captain, he handed the Cup off to defenseman Willie Mitchell, who then handed it to Simon Gagne (another Flyer). Why were they first? Mitchell and Gagne were the two Kings who had played the longest without a Championship. Rounding out the first five to skate with the Cup were Assistant Captains Kopitar and defenseman Matt Greene, speaking volumes of the importance of leadership to a Championship. And while many might have tuned out after a while, the moment of the evening might have been when longtime King and current executive with the team Luc Robitaille finally lifted the Cup before the city of Los Angeles.
Alas, no wrap up of a Championship is complete without taking a look at the agony of defeat. Midway through the 1st period, Steve Bernier, member of the valuable Devil’s 4th line, was given a 5 minute Major Penalty and Game Misconduct when he ran defenseman Rob Scuderi in the back behind the King’s net. On the ensuing 5 minute power play, Brown, Carter, and Trevor Lewis all scored, sending the Staples Center into bedlam and essentially ending any chance of a historic comeback to force a Game 7 in Newark. While Bernier’s hit was clearly illegal, one cannot help but feel for the AHL call up who has joined the likes of Marty McSorely and Esa Tikkanen in NHL playoff lore misery. When Bernier raced towards the boards, Scuderi was in fact on his forehand. Had he stayed like that, Bernier likely would have only been called for a minor penalty (or even none at all). But at the last second Scuderi turned and it became a hit from behind. Now, some have blamed the play on Scuderi, but the fact remains that Bernier is responsible for his own actions. But when it comes down to it, Bernier was doing what he was supposed to do, playing at 110% effort in a game his team had to have. A split second changed that effort from positive to detrimental. Bernier’s hit did not lose the Devils the chance to win the Cup, but it sure did not help, and just under 2 hours later, Dustin Brown was lifting the Stanley Cup.
Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com