Then came Monday night, and finally, somehow, the throne.
Crown the Kings.
With a 6-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils, the Kings won the series, 4-2, and hoisted their first Stanley Cup. They won their first 10 road games – setting the playoff record for a road winning streak, tying the playoff record for total road victories – and went a stunning 16-4 overall.
And they did it as an eighth seed, by far the lowest to win the Cup. Since the NHL started seeding its conferences one through eight in 1993-94, only one bottom-four seed had ever won it all – the 1995 Devils, a fifth seed in a lockout-shortened season.
These Kings were commoners for much of 2011-12, underachieving in a league of salary-capped equality. General manager Dean Lombardi fired coach Terry Murray and brought in Darryl Sutter in December. He acquired sniper Jeff Carter before the trade deadline in February. Despite a talented roster that had been expected to contend, the Kings ranked second-to-last in the league in scoring. They grabbed the final playoff spot in the West.
But suddenly, it all came together in the playoffs. Jonathan Quick continued be the best goaltender in the game and the defense stayed tight as the Kings started scoring more. They knocked off the first, second and third seeds in the West before exorcising the Devils.
The Kings' other homegrown stars broke out – Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown. The dynamic duo dumped by the Philadelphia Flyers last summer – Carter and Mike Richards – rebounded better than anyone could have imagined. The depth players contributed, from rookie Dwight King to biggie winger Dustin Penner to … well, almost everyone chipped in at least one goal.
Making this run in this era was a miracle, no matter how well the Kings should have played all along or where they were seeded in the end. It was a bigger miracle than the Miracle on Manchester, when the Kings turned a 5-0 deficit into a 6-5 overtime victory over Gretzky's 1982 Edmonton Oilers at the Forum on Manchester Blvd. That was just Game 3 of a best-of-5 first-round upset. This run was certainly a bigger triumph than making the '93 final; Gretzky's Kings couldn't complete their quest.
These Kings cannot live up to the Lakers and the 11 NBA championships they have won since arriving in Los Angeles. But they can hang their own banner in Staples Center. They can deepen the niche they had already carved among the thousands of long-suffering fans in the old Forum Blue and Gold, and maybe they can entice more fans to don the modern black and white.
No more lower-class status. No more looking elsewhere. No more waiting for all the guys like Luc Robitaille, the Hall of Fame winger who spent 14 of his 19 NHL seasons in L.A. but won his only Cup with the Detroit Red Wings. He returned to his original team as an executive, hoping to see this day.
"It means everything," he said.
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