The road to the Stanley Cup Finals is not an easy one — and that might be a bit of an understatement for the Los Angeles Kings.
The Kings earned the franchise’s second-ever trip to the Finals on Tuesday night, defeating the Phoenix Coyotes 4-3 in historic fashion.
Dustin Penner scored the winning goal 17:42 into overtime after gathering a bouncing puck that beat Mike Smith between the pads.
"I got a lucky bounce," Penner said. "I just waited for it to settle down, and I got a chance to get it in the net."
The Kings have now won an NHL-record eight straight road games, as they're the first team to go undefeated on the road in route to the Stanley Cup finals.
But let’s rewind back a few months for just a moment.
It all began last year on June 23. It was on that hot summer afternoon that the Kings decided to make a trade for what the franchise hoped was the missing piece to a Stanley Cup puzzle – Mike Richards. It cost plenty of young talent to get Richards, but it certainly made Los Angeles one of the favorites to come out of the west.
As the trade deadline approached it was a roller coaster of a season for the Kings. The team was struggling to keep up with the rest of the division and ranked second to last in the NHL in scoring; so the franchise added more firepower in Jeff Carter – a former teammate of Richards’ last season in Philadelphia.
The scoring woes continued, but thanks to a strong last week of the season the Kings managed to claw their way into the playoffs as the Western Conference’s eighth seed. No one knew what lied ahead for the Kings and the history that was about to be made.
With the series between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils tied at two games a piece, Los Angeles must wait to see who they will face off against in the finals. It’s just the franchise’s second trip to the finals since joining the league as an expansion team in 1967. Their only other appearance came in 1993 when Wayne Gretzky and coach Barry Melrose were defeated by Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens in five games, three of which were decided in overtime.
While that team was expected to win it all, this year’s team was not. Virtually everyone picked against the Kings in their first round matchup against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks; but it took just five games to oust the reigning Western Conference champions. But that must have just been a fluke, right?
That was the mindset of many around the league – including us – as the Kings prepared for their second
round battle against St. Louis; but the result wound up similar for Los Angeles – a series sweep
over the second-seeded Blues. With that win the Kings became the first eighth seed in NHL history to
eliminate the first and second seeds in the conference.
The third-seeded Coyotes perhaps put up the most fight, which was to be expected, being that the Coyotes and Kings are division rivals, but in the end it took just five games to defeat the Pacific Division champions. With Tuesday night’s road win, the Kings became the only team to ever win eight straight road playoff games, passing the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks’ seven consecutive games.
So what made for the quick turnaround that has Los Angeles looking unstoppable?
Goaltender Jonathan Quick is responsible. Quick has been unstoppable throughout the playoffs and is putting together one of the most memorable playoff performances in between the pipes the league has ever seen. Prior to his Game 5 performance, his 11 wins, 1.46 goals-against average and .948 save percentage were all ranked first in this year’s postseason.
On the offensive side of the puck, the Kings have looked to past playoff performers for their offensive production. Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar have led the way as expected. But what about the missing piece, Richards and his party brother Jeff Carter?
Carter looked like a ghost for much of the conference finals but has managed to net a few goals. Though
we’d be willing to bet the Kings would probably rather have defenseman Jack Johnson – the guy Los Angeles shipped off to Columbus for Carter – right about now.
As for Richards, he has looked far better than his numbers might indicate, proving to be important in the little aspects of the game, such as penalty killing. Though his game-winning goal in Game 3 against the Blues proved to set the tone for the remainder of the series.
With their Staples Center co-inhabitants, the Lakers and Clippers, gone, the Kings are Los Angeles’ last
hope for a championship this spring. No matter which team the Kings have to face, it’s going to be an
east coast, west coast battle!
Photo Credit: AP