The oldest and most coveted sports trophy in North America will call Southern California home for only the 2nd time in its 120 year history.
The LA Kings made history the other night. In defeating the New Jersey Devils 6-1 in game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, they became the first team in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup, the oldest and arguably the most coveted trophy in North America, as a number eight seed.
It was that kind of season for the Kings. Even into the final week of the regular season, it was uncertain that the team would even qualify for the playoffs, sliding into the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference. But once in, the unheralded Kings went super-nova, blazing through the top three seeds as if some juggernaut flicking specks of dust off its shoulder.
How impressive was their run through the playoffs? They won less than half of their games in the regular season, finishing with an official stat line of 40-27-15, with 95 points (in hockey, like soccer, the standings are determined by a point system, with three points awarded for each win and one point for each game lost in overtime or a shootout. Since 15 of those losses came in overtime or a shootout, the Kings earned an extra 15 points.. Officially, they’re recorded as “OTL’s,” or overtime losses).
The Kings struggled to score goals all season long, relying on a stellar performance all year long from American born goalie Jonathan Quick, who won the Conn-Smythe trophy as the playoff MVP. Quick is also a leading candidate for the Hart trophy, awarded to the league’s overall most valuable player.
How bad was it early on? So bad that in mid-December, the Kings brass fired coach Terry Murray and replaced him with grizzled NHL statesman Darryl Sutter, from the Sutter family that is considered hockey royalty. In all six Sutter brothers played in the NHL, and four of them went on to become a coach or GM in the NHL.
It didn’t look like the move was going to pay huge dividends, as the team continued to struggle to find its offense right up until the final day of the regular season. They did just well enough to keep their collective head above water, but they weren’t exactly taking the league by storm.
Then something changed.
In 2001, the Colorado Avalanche—the heavy favorite to win the Cup at the beginning of the season–had hats and t-shirts made up with the message “Mission 16W,” signifying the 16 wins in the playoffs that it takes to win the Stanley Cup, which they did, going 16-7, including winning the Stanley Cup Finals in seven games over…….wait for it…….the New Jersey Devils!
The mission the Kings went on took “Mission 16W” to an unheard of level, particularly from an eight seed.
They started off by thumping—and I mean thumping—the winner of the President’s Trophy, signifying the best record in the National Hockey League that year and #1 overall seed in the playoffs, the Vancouver Canucks four games to one. A humiliation for the best team in the league.
Next up came the #2 seed in the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues. The Kings swept them off to the golf course in four games.
In the conference finals, the Kings dispatched the #3 seed Phoenix Coyotes four games to one. They then went on to beat the Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey Devils four games to two.
In all, the Kings reached that “Mission 16W” goal in a mind-numbing 20 games, going 16-4 in the playoffs. Even more bewildering? They started off the playoff season with an unprecedented 10-0 record on the road, losing their first and only road game of the entire playoff season to the Devils in game 5 of the Cup Finals. A remarkable feat any way you look at it.
And so for the first time in the franchise’s 45 year history the Los Angeles Kings are the Stanley Cup Champions. They did the impossible, and Lord Stanley’s chalice has made its triumphant return to Southern California (more on that in a minute…..but that’s gotta hurt just a little, no Kings fans?). Kings fans who packed Staples Center—including the litany of celebrities who invariably show up to Tinseltown’s biggest events–got treated to the rarest of celebrations: They got to see their team skate the Cup.
It’s a special sight to be able to see your team skate that immortal trophy around the arena ice. In 2007 I was among the 17,000+ screaming idiots packed into Honda Center in Anaheim to see the Anaheim Ducks do what they were supposed to do: Dispatch the Ottawa Senators in five games. That team was a juggernaut, and was expected to slice through their playoff competition. It was a young team playing for a young franchise that was only founded in 1993. That team became the first from the West Coast—and the first from California—to earn the privilege of lifting the cup over their heads. It’s an incredible experience to be a part of.
In 2007, the Stanley Cup made its way around the So Cal area to share with the public. It will no doubt do the same this time, except it will probably stick to points North. But it will be an experience that denizens of the Los Angeles area will never forget—something that will eclipse the championships earned by other area teams, because those trophies aren’t nearly as famous or as coveted or unique as this one is.
So congratulations Kings and Kings fans everywhere! You’re finally the Kings of the hockey world! Just remember, though, that the Ducks got there first.