Los Angeles Kings win 1st ever Stanley Cup

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

NHL conference previews and MVP watch

Dustin BrownNow that we are down to the Final Four, lets take a look at which players are likely to take the Conn Smythe trophy home if their team lifts the Stanley Cup. Here are the front runners from each of the remaining teams, as well as a prediction for who will be playing for the right to be named the NHL’s best for 2012.

– Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings

Jonathan Quick has been spectacular as well, but no one has been as valuable to the King’s Cinderella run than the Captain. Brown went into this playoff as maybe one of the most underrated players in hockey, but he certainly no longer is. He has 7 goals and 6 assists, good for 13 points in only 11 games and is a sparking +11. Brown has always been a tough player willing to do the dirty work to help his team and can score, but not like this. And not only is he scoring, he is scoring when it matters as 3 of his goals are game winners, best in the playoffs. On a team that had issues scoring in the regular season, Brown has been invaluable to the success of the LA Kings.

– David Clarkson, New Jersey Devils

The Devils have no clear favorite for the playoff MVP as their top guns all are pretty much equal in points and Broudeur has had a few dud games. Clarkson though is the type of grinder that thrives in the playoffs and has been important to the successful defensive performance that stopped the Flyers offensive assault. Clarkson has only scored twice, but both are GWG.

– Brad Richards, New York Rangers

It’s not often that a big off season signing earns his paycheck. It’s far less often that he deserves more, and give his performance so far Richards might. Richards was by far the best player in the Rangers second round victory over the Washington Capitals as his line was the only one to really get anything going versus the stout Capitals defense. He he also has lived up to his clutch reputation as he was involved in the 3 most important goals of the series. He set up Gaborik for the Game 3 triple OT winner, scored the miracle goal in Game 5 and scored the early goal in Game 7 that the Caps never recovered from. Lundqvist has been good, but Richards has been clutch.

– Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes

Others have been good for the Yotes, but none have been as valuable as the goalie Smith. Smith has faced the most shots in the playoffs thus far despite playing less games than Brodeur and Lundqvist and sports an impressive 1.85 GAA and .948 S%. He was virtually unbearable in the deciding game versus the Hawks and stated slow but finished strong against the Predators. Many could argue the Coyotes do not have the offense that the Hawks or Predators do, yet they are still playing. Chalk that up to Mike Smith.

Predictions for the Conference Finals:

Rangers in 7: The Rangers have not been unbeatable this playoffs and had to fight to get where they are. Nothing wrong with that, but an experienced Devils squad will give them some trouble. The no name defense with the Hall of Famer goalie have been great and the Rangers will have to fight to get back to the Finals for the 1st time since 1994. But the Rangers, led by Richards and Lundqvist, have put in the work to earn the big goals so far and expect that to continue versus a good, but not quite as talented, Devils team.  Expect another close series for the Blueshirts.

Kings in 6: When you’re on, you’re on, and the Kings are on. LA found their scoring touch at the right time and have been unstoppable. Many considered the Kings a Cup contender at the beginning of the year, but they could not score. Now they can. Look for the Kopitar/Brown/Williams line to continue to wreck havoc on the Yotes and for Quick to continue his Vezina like performance he has put on all year. The Coyotes will catch a break here and there and make this interesting as it is unlikely the Kings stay this hot, but look for an LA-NY Final.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com