An unlikely hero gives L.A. Kings the Stanley Cup

 Los Angeles Kings players celebrate after defeating the New York Rangers in game five of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center (Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports)
It was wild. It was unpredictable. The action went back and forth and up and down the ice all night long. Pucks clinked off the goal post and the crossbar … one, two, three, four times in overtime. It was one team, the New York Rangers, playing for its playoff life, against another team, the Los Angeles Kings, aching to celebrate a second Stanley Cup championship in three years on home ice.
It went on and on: one overtime, and then into the second, with enough scoring chances to end half-a-dozen games. Then finally the dam broke when Alec Martinez – of course Alec Martinez – scored the game-winning goal on a rebound at the 14:43 mark of the second overtime period Friday to give the Kings the title.
Martinez also scored the winner in Game 7 of the Western Conference final against the Chicago Blackhawks, proving once again that when the game is on the line, the most unassuming of players can turn out to be the heroes.
“I just saw open net,” said Martinez, “then I blacked out. Scoring goals on a guy like (Henrik) Lundqvist, he’s one of the best goaltenders in the world, so you’ve got to get pucks on net. That’s the approach we took. He had a heck of a series and so did their hockey club.”
Never-say-die can be an over-worn cliché, but it also aptly sums up the path the Kings took in these playoffs, where they never exactly achieved championship form. But what they lacked in efficiency, they made up for in drama.
There were not one, but two three-game losing streaks, which is a hard thing to manage in a best-of-seven series. The run featured a succession of historic comebacks and performances that had the Elias Sports Bureau digging deeply into their data bases night after night.
In order, the Kings were: a) only the fourth team in NHL history to win a playoff series after losing the first three games; b) the only team in NHL history to win three consecutive seven-game series; c) the first team in NHL history to win three consecutive playoff games after trailing by two goals; and d) the first team to hold a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup final after not leading in either of the games.
There are more stats to make the point, but you get the overall picture.
The Kings’ ability to claw out victories after what seemed like certain defeat simply defied logic.
It was a memorable ending to what had been up to that point a less-than-thrilling series. Compared to the tension and overall quality of play in the Western Conference final between the Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks, this series looked slower. Perhaps it was a function of fatigue – the Kings were playing a record-tying 26th playoff game; the Rangers 25. When you factor in how many key players on both sides also competed at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, it added up to a lot of hockey – and up until the final, a lot of it was played at a lightning-fast pace.
“This series was probably, I don’t want to say the easiest, but the least physical and demanding without a doubt,” said defenceman Drew Doughty. “All the other series were more physical. They were tougher on the body. It’s still a good series, but the other ones were tougher.”
The Kings went into the playoffs as the lowest-scoring of the 16 qualifying teams and then promptly led the post-season by averaging just a shade under three-and-a-half per game. Normally, they play a buttoned-down defensive style that you rarely saw until the last few games. They scored goals aplenty, recording comebacks galore. Team captain Dustin Brown said it over and over: That there was belief system in the Kings’ dressing room drawn from stability and trust, which genuinely convinced them they were never out of any game.
Brown accepted the Stanley Cup from commissioner Gary Bettman and then handed it off to Robyn Regehr, who hadn’t played since the second round because of injury.
“I’m emotionally stunned – like I’ve never been before,” said Brown. “I think that’s an accumulation of everything that’s happened.”
With the core of the team so young and mostly signed to long-term contract extensions, the Kings could be competitive for years to come.
“Once we won the first one, all we wanted to do was win another one,” said defenceman Drew Doughty. “We kind of messed that up last year, when we lost the Cup to a better team. But we wanted it back so bad and we felt like it was ours. We got it back and now, we’re happy now.”

 New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault says the odds may favour the Los Angeles Kings, but that won't change his team's style of hockey. The squads face off in L.A. Wednesday for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final.
This one began promisingly enough for the home team, the Kings opening up a 1-0 first-period lead on Justin Williams’ ninth playoff goal. They nursed that narrow advantage into the second period, when the Rangers’ Chris Kreider (on the power play) and Brian Boyle (shorthanded) scored goals on consecutive shots to give the Rangers their first lead of the game.
In the third, the Rangers started crawling into a defensive shell, which turned the momentum in L.A.’s direction. Eventually, Marian Gaborik scored the tying goal, his 14th of the post-season, on a power play after Mats Zuccarello went off for tripping Jake Muzzin. The Kings’ record for goals in a single playoff season is 15, established by Wayne Gretzky.
Among the four players who were contenders for the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP – Doughty, plus forwards Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Williams – all were key contributors two years ago as well. Williams eventually won it, largely because he led the Kings in scoring during the final against the Rangers.
Doughty called Williams a deserving winner, noting: “You could have given it to anyone on this team. Everyone played so well. It was a full-team effort, but Justin Williams deserved it.”
Among the newcomers and first-time winners were a pair of rookie wingers – Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson; a free-agent defenceman who played big minutes in Jake Muzzin, plus Gaborik, an astute trading-deadline acquisition by Kings’ general manager Dean Lombardi.
On one level, the 2014 final was almost a Columbus Blue Jackets alumni tournament. Both Carter and Gaborik joined the Kings from the Blue Jackets, while four regulars in Friday’s Rangers’ line-up - Derick Brassard, Rick Nash, John Moore and Derek Dorsett – also came over from Columbus.
To ponder how far the Kings came during the 2014 NHL playoffs, you almost needed to go back seven weeks, when full-grown beards were mere stubble on the players’ faces and they were stumbling badly in the first round against the San Jose Sharks.
The Kings didn’t just drop the first two games of that series. They got clobbered in a big messy way – by a combined score of 13-5.
When the Kings lost Game 3 as well, it looked as if they might be the first team eliminated in the playoffs. In some quarters, the post-mortems were cued up and ready to go.
Instead, the Kings redefined what it means to be resilient.
The Kings were playing their 64th playoff game of the last three years, the most ever in the NHL in a three-year span, and no one played more for them in these playoffs than Doughty.
Doughty is now a two-time gold-medal winner and a two-time Stanley Cup champion. He will celebrate his 25th birthday in December.
If the 2014 playoffs were a coming-out party for any player, it was for him, after averaging over 28 minutes per night for 26 games, and rarely faltered. Doughty made his share of mistakes all right – but they were errors of enthusiasm and his brashness never failed him. Like so many of the other greats of the game, he could easily put a mistake behind him and try the same play again, and make it work the next time.
“He’s a darn special player and we’re lucky to have him,” said defenceman Willie Mitchell. “I think everyone knows that in the league as well.”
Fifteen of the 20 players in the Kings’ winning line-up were also part of the 2012 Stanley Cup championship team, which defeated the New Jersey Devils in six games.
“It was a little different this time around – no sneaking up on anybody,” said Mitchell. “We played some great teams – San Jose, Anaheim, Chicago and now here the Rangers. Maybe that’s why it’s so much more rewarding. To be in the length of the series we were in, it’s pretty unreal. We got a lot of character, the guys dug deep. We don’t necessarily like dealing with adversity but we’re comfortable with it.
Mitchell went on to say: “It’s pretty damn cool. Everyone has their own things they think about. The number one thing for me is actually family. It’s funny how the Stanley Cup brings families together. Look around here (on the ice, in the midst of a wild celebration), you see all the family that supported you – your wife, your mother, your father, your sister. I think that’s the most special thing about the Stanley Cup – the smiles on all their faces. That’s the most special part for me.”

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