Tuesday, June 12, 2012
In their 45th season of play, the Los Angeles Kings captured their first Stanley Cup championship last night with a dominating 6-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils in front of their delirious home fans.
The Kings season began with a trip to Europe as part of the NHL Premiere series of opening games. After defeating the Hamburg Freezers 5-4 in an exhibition game, the Kings travelled to Stockholm, Sweden to face the New York Rangers on October 7th, kicking off their season right with a 3-2 win. They returned to Germany, this time in Berlin, where they took on the Buffalo Sabres, dropping a 4-2 decision.
They returned to North America to begin the season proper five days later with a 2-1 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils, who would feature prominently in their season much later on. They finished October with a 6-3-2 record, which they nearly duplicated in November to reach 12-8-4.
After winning 2-1 on December 1st, the lost their next four in a row to fall to 13-12-4, which cost head coach Andy Murray his job. He was immediately replaced by John Stevens as the search for a permanent replacement began. Under Stevens, the Kings alternated losses and wins over their next four games until Darryl Sutter, who had previously coached Chicago, San Jose and Calgary, as their new, permanent coach.
The effect was swift and dramatic. The Kings scored points in 17 of their next 19 games, going 10-2-6. February though, was not kind to the Kings, who slumped rather badly, dropping eight of their next ten games before making a headline grabbing trade on February 23rd, obtaining former Philadelphia Flyer Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for defenseman Jack Johnson and a conditional 1st round draft pick.
Carter was unhappy in Columbus and it re-energized him to be reunited with former Flyers teammate Mike Richards. With Carter on board, goaltender Jonathan Quick playing well, the Kings began their playoff push two days later with a 4-0 blanking of the Chicago Blackhawks. A 2-1 loss to Nashville was followed by a three straight wins, but two more losses came next.
Quick won the Kings next six games to elevate Los Angeles from 74 points to 86. After losing two, they would go undefeated over their final six games, winning three and gaining a point in the other three to lock up the final place in the postseason tournament, finishing three wins and five points clear of Calgary in 9th.
Entering the playoffs as the eighth, and final qualifier in the Western Conference, the Kings were paired against the President's Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks, who didn't stand a chance after the Kings won the first two games by matching 4-2 scores in Canada. Los Angeles returned home for a 1-0 shutout by Quick to put the Canucks on the brink. Vancouver stayed alive with a 3-1 win in Game 4, but the Kings moved on with a 2-1 win in overtime of Game 5. Quick only allowed eight goals in the series' five games.
The next challenge for Los Angeles was the #2 seeded St. Louis Blues, however, the Blues were easily dispatched in four straight games with the Kings winning every game by at least two goals as they outscored St. Louis 15-6 to become the first team to defeat both the #1 and #2 seeds in the playoffs.
The Phoenix Coyotes, seed third as Pacific Division winners, were the next hurdle for the Kings, who pushed their winning streak to eight by taking the first three games from Phoenix, which also ran their road record to a perfect 7-0. After the Coyotes stayed alive with a win in Game 5, the Kings closed out the series to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in team history with a 4-3 overtime win in Phoenix.
Amazingly, the Kings won their first two games on the road to open their fourth series in a row and extended their road winning streak to 10 games. They looked to be on the brink of a championship after a 4-0 blanking of the Devils in Game 3, but the Devils dug deep and won the next two games 3-1 and 2-1 to send the series back to Los Angeles for a sixth game, the longest series that the Kings had been involved in all postseason.
Not wanting to risk the uncertainty of a seventh game, the Kings took full advantage of an early five minute power play, scoring three times to take control. They added a fourth goal just 1:30 into the second, doing their best to let New Jersey know not to consider any thoughts of a comeback. The Devils would not solve Quick until there was 1:15 left in the second, but with the Kings having never surrendering more than 3 goals in any game of the playoffs, a Devils faced a virtually impossible task entering the third.
In desperation, they pulled goaltender Martin Brodeur with nearly 4 minutes remaining and Trevor Lewis scored to put the game out of reach. Matt Greene followed with a floater from the point just 15 seconds later to produce the final margin of victory and get the celebration underway a few minutes early.
The Kings march through the post season saw them finish with a 16-4 record and a 10-1 mark on the road, winning each series as a lower seed. Quick was named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, the third American to win it after Brian Leetch (1994) and Tim Thomas (2011).
Dustin Brown became just the second American-born captain to win the cup following Derian Hatcher of the Dallas Stars back in 1999. Of note concerning nationalities, forward Anze Kopitar becomes the first Slovenian to win the cup. The Kings trip to Germany and Sweden to open the season is now the fourth year in a row the eventual cup champion has begun their season in Europe as part of the NHL Premiere Series.
Today's featured jersey is a 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings Willie Mitchell jersey. The Kings made several changes to their jerseys for 2011-12, as they promoted their silver and black alternate jersey with a shield crest to become their new primary home jersey and designating their previous purple and black home jersey adorned with a crown logo as the new alternate. They also created a new white version of their new primary jersey to be worn on the road, a jersey which made it's public debut at the 2011 NHL Draft.
The change to silver and black home and road jerseys was a return to the look the Kings employed from 1988 to 1998, which was ushered in by the arrival of Wayne Gretzky in Los Angeles.
Mitchell, a defenseman, was the second King to hoist the Stanley Cup following team captain Brown. He is a 12 year veteran of the NHL, having started his career with the Devils before moving to the Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks and is the oldest player on the Kings. His 24 points this season was a career high, as was his 5 goals.
Here are the highlights of last night's Game 6 as the Kings won the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.