NEWARK, N.J. – Jonathan Quick sat in the back corner of the Los Angeles Kings' dressing room Saturday night, and a reporter was trying to pinch him, trying to wake him up from the dream he was in. Are you guys still calm? Is there really no sense of oh-my-god-this-is-really-happening?
On cue, as if he had heard the questions, coach Darryl Sutter called out: "Speed it up, son." The Kings had a plane to catch after their 2-1 overtime victory over the New Jersey Devils, their second straight 2-1 overtime victory of the Stanley Cup Final.
Gotta keep going. Can't stop and think. Can't pinch themselves. Not now.
"Yep," Quick said. "Last question here. We're taking it game by game. We know how great of a team they are, so we've got to bring our best Monday if we think we're going to have a chance to win it."
A chance? The Kings not only have an excellent chance to win the first Cup in the franchise's 45-year history, they have a chance to make all kinds of hockey history the way they're going right now.
They have a 2-0 lead as the series shifts to L.A. They are 4-0 in overtime in these playoffs. They are 10-0 on the road, setting the NHL record for a playoff road winning streak and tying the league mark for road victories in the postseason. They are 14-2 overall – fourteen and freaking two! – and that means they have a shot to equal the 1988 Edmonton Oilers' 16-2 run, the best the league has seen since it started playing four best-of-seven series in '87.
This is not 1988, and these are not the Oilers of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier and Jari Kurri and Kevin Lowe and Grant Fuhr. But that makes this all the more amazing.
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This is 2012, the seventh postseason of the salary-cap era, when the story is supposed to be about parity, when the league is tighter than ever before and the Cup should be the hardest to win. And these are the Kings that finished second-to-last in the NHL in scoring in the regular season and made the playoffs as the eighth and final seed in the West.
Only one bottom-four seed has ever won the Cup since the league started seeding each conference one through eight in 1993-94, and that was the fifth-seeded Devils in 1995, a lockout-shortened season.
And now an eighth seed has an opportunity to win it with a display of dominance worthy of a dynasty? When those '88 Oilers went 16-2, they won their fourth Stanley Cup in five years.
Do these guys think they belong in that kind of company? "No," said Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell, insisting all they care about is their next game. Do they sense they have been that dominant? "No," Mitchell said again, pointing out they just played two close games – two overtime games – that could have gone either way.
Again, all the more amazing.
"You talk to other guys that went on runs," said Mitchell, a 35-year-old veteran making his first appearance in the Cup final. "You've got to be playing good hockey, coming together as a team. But you've also got to get some breaks and get some luck. You work for those. I think our group works hard."
There is no single explanation for this.
The Kings never should have been an eighth seed. They're only disguised as a Cinderella. With talents like Anze Kopitar up front, Drew Doughty on defense and Quick in goal, they were expected to break out as Cup contenders, but underachieved in the regular season before finally living up to expectations in the playoffs. But even if they had won the Presidents' Trophy, who would have thought they could go 14-2?
Quick is incredible. He was the best goalie in the NHL in the regular season and should win the Vezina Trophy, even over the New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist. Quick's been stellar in these playoffs with a 1.44 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. He made 32 saves Saturday night. But lots of teams have had great goalies or hot goalies, and lots of them have won the Cup. How many of them have gone 14-2?
Sutter replaced Terry Murray as coach during the season and turned around the team, taking pressure off some guys, putting pressure on other guys, bringing out the team's speed, improving its offense.
After holding out for a fat contract, missing training camp, showing up with a fat frame and suffering a separated shoulder, Doughty found his game about midseason and has lived up to expectations in these playoffs. He gave the Kings a 1-0 lead Saturday with a rush that reminded some of Bobby Orr, stickhandling through traffic, flying up the ice, firing the puck past Martin Brodeur.
The Kings added sniper Jeff Carter before the trade deadline, and he scored the Game 2 winner 13:42 into overtime, racing past a Devil on the right wing, shooting, skating behind the net, picking up the puck on the other side, circling the zone and scoring from the slot.
[RELATED: Doughty scores on a beautiful end-to-end rush]
Dustin Brown was a force in the first three rounds, Dustin Penner started producing in the playoffs and 16 players have chipped in a goal. The defense is playing like a unit. The Kings have won the first two games of each series, on the road each time, something center Jarret Stoll could only call "kind of weird…great, but weird."
All of that is great, too. But 14-2?
As Mitchell said, it takes everything coming together, and it takes luck to create something this special – the kind of luck that leaves the Devils' Ilya Kovalchuk, the playoffs' leading scorer, hitting the crossbar with the game tied and only seconds left in regulation.
Gotta keep going. Can't stop and think. Sutter wouldn't even entertain a question about the road record, saying: "We got to go home. We got to play at home. I'd hate to say that we went undefeated on the road." No one will care if they don't win the Cup.
Can't pinch themselves. Not now. The Kings hustled out of the arena after overtime, headed to the airport. They packed no champagne for the flight.
"You don't celebrate," Stoll said. "We haven't won anything."
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