At last, the Kings have a Stanley Cup answer
After 45 years as more jester than nobility, Los Angeles has an NHL champion.
The game of small-town Canada has just been heisted by Hollywood. A group of bearded beach bums has just stolen sports’ most chilling trophy and stuck it where the sun shines.
The most popular puck around here is no longer Wolfgang. Our hottest skaters are no longer in bikinis.
Heaven has frozen over. The Kings are 2012 Stanley Cup champions.
The first title in franchise history was earned on a monumental Monday in which a team’s skittishness became greatness while a city’s icy stare melted into tearful slush. Pushed to the edge of collapse, the Kings instead crunched and clinched, defeating the New Jersey Devils, 6-1, to win the Final series, four games to two.
After 45 years as a court jester, they are now Kings indeed, their coronation occurring at a Staples Center that has never been so loud, their celebration as emotionally raw as the ice under their suddenly shaky skates.
As the final seconds ticked off, the crowd of nearly 19,000 fans counted down — “five, four, three, two, one” — as if this were Times Square onNew Year’s Eve. At the final horn, silver streamers dropped from the sky while the Kings’ madly tossed sticks and helmets littered the ice.
In the stands, fans hugged and wept and cheered until it seemed as if the building would collapse of sheer joy. Down below, the players embraced each other’s giant pads and kissed each other’s sweaty cheeks with a defiant frenzy born of being hockey’s first eighth-seeded team to win a championship.
They won less than half of their regular-season games. They didn’t even make the playoffs until the season’s final week. A franchise that couldn’t even win with The Great One had just done it with the Amazing Ones.
“I don’t even believe this is happening,” said defenseman Drew Doughty in a whispery voice that was engulfed in the happy noise of history.
Eventually, the 35-pound Stanley Cup was rolled across a red carpet on to the ice and presented to captain Dustin Brown, who then displayed the sentimental bond that has fueled this team by handing it first to 35-year-old Willie Mitchell, the team’s oldest player who was touching his first Cup. Mitchell then passed it to Simon Gagne, who had spent the season valiantly battling concussion problems. Only after those two examples of grit had lifted the Cup was it finally passed to assistant captain Anze Kopitar.
Meanwhile, none of the fans were leaving, everyone chanting and cheering each player as they lifted and kissed the Cup, a championship scene unlike anything ever witnessed in any sport in Staples Center’s 12-year history.
“I’m going to be asked the same question and I’m going to have to give the same answer — I do not have words to describe this,” said Brown, his eyes red as they stared up appreciatively into the awe-struck gaze of this city’s most loyal fan base.
Long after he touched the Cup for the first time, Brown took it back and plopped it on the ice for its first official Kings duty. He lifted one of his small children and sat him inside of it.
“People in this city have been waiting 45 years for this,” said Brown. “It’s something I’ll remember forever.”
After 45 years, it was over in about four minutes. Midway through Monday’s first period, in a scoreless tie, the Devils’ Steve Bernier committed the dumbest and most devastating play of the series, smashing the King’ Rob Scuderi into the boards with such force the defender crumpled to the ice and lay there for several long and frightening moments.
Bernier was ejected from the game, but before he left, he was issued a five-minute major boarding penalty that guaranteed the Kings would have the power play for all of those five minutes.
As if knowing this was now or never, the Kings proceeded to tie a club record with three goals during those five minutes to essentially finish the Devils on the spot. It was fitting that the first goal, giving them a lead they would never lose, was slapped in by Brown, who has spent eight seasons here in shadows that have finally been lifted.
“We did this for everyone who has been waiting 45 years for this,” said Dustin Penner. “You can just feel the joy.”
This was for Phil Anschutz, the Kings’ owner who has long been criticized in this column for using our professional teams as pawns in his real estate operation. In the last year, the dude has closed on two sports championships — soccer’s Galaxy last summer, and now this. Has any Los Angeles sports owner ever had a better run?
This was also for Tim Leiweke, Anschutz’s top lieutenant and city’s sports power broker. While his fingerprints are seemingly on every team in town, his first love has been his Kings, whom he has supported as one of their biggest cheerleaders in the stands.
“This is for the people of Los Angeles, because this team is the best of Los Angeles,” said Leiweke. “This team has worked together unselfishly to bring out the best in each of them.”
Even after it ended, they were coolly taking care of business. During his postgame news conference, goalie Jonathan Quick, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stanley Cup playoff MVP, was holding his 2-year-old daughter Madison when she started choking on some candy.
He calmly patted her back until her throat cleared. Yep, one more save.
“Sorry, M&M crisis,” he said.
The downtown celebration parade is Thursday at noon. It’s going to be seriously cold. It’s going to be way hot.
At long last, Kings.