There was little reason to believe the Kings would win the Stanley Cup this season, especially when they faced a 3-0 series deficit to San Jose in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
But the Kings believed.
They made their postseason run a triumphant one of resiliency, thrilling, painstaking, unfathomable victories. They turned a daunting deficit into an historical comeback, persevered through three Game 7 road victories.
They did nothing easy, but they still delivered clutch wins and the franchise’s second Stanley Cup in three years.
Following the undeterred lead of coach Darryl Sutter and a loaded roster filled with championship experience from goaltender Jonathan Quick to center Anze Kopitar and superstar defenseman Drew Doughty, the Kings rallied to pull of an historical upset against the Sharks.
They survived a pair of elimination games against Anaheim, lost a series lead to Chicago and stood strong, then using three overtime games and deliver a knockout punch against the New York Rangers to win their second Stanley Cup.
It was a wild, grueling, excruciating way to do it, but the Kings survived.
“I think it takes a lot of effort and will,” Sutter said. “But I think once you did it as a group, the nucleus of your team, I’ve said it lots and we talk about it lots in the room, the winning and losing part of it. It sounds off the wall, but a lot of times when you lose a game, you’re actually winning in a lot of other areas and you just believe in it.
“I told some of the players, should we win the Stanley Cup this year in a different way, it just tells you we actually got better.”
This postseason run was so unlike the one in 2012, when the Kings dominated the playoffs in a 16-4 domination tour that ended in a Stanley Cup celebration at Staples Center.
But this one was even sweeter because of the adversity the Kings overcame and the nail-biting drama from three overtime games at Staples Center and five overall overtime games in the postseason.
There were some devastating blows before there were highs. The Kings gave up 13 goals in the first two games of the postseason, and Quick was pulled in the first game, a 6-3 loss in San Jose.
The next game, Sutter left Quick in for the duration of a 7-2 loss. The Kings lost in overtime in Game 3, then did the unthinkable with four consecutive wins in elimination games.
Quick wasn’t the same goalie he was in 2012, when he gave up 29 goals in just 20 games, but he made magnificent, timely, game-clinching saves when the Kings need him most.
The Kings and Ducks made history in the Western Conference semifinals by staging their first Freeway Series in the postseason. A rivalry can’t be cemented until teams meet in the playoffs, and the Kings and Ducks got off to a good start. The Kings led the series 2-0 but the Ducks rattled off three straight wins, including a Game 5 in which the Kings were plagued by turnovers.
Defenseman Jake Muzzin made a costly turnover deep in the Kings’ own end, falling inexplicably and giving an easy scoring opportunity to the Ducks. That mistake was symbolic of the Kings’ woes in that game. The Kings were down and out.
Facing elimination in Game 6, the Kings used a goal from Muzzin, making up for his four turnovers the previous game, and won 2-1. And in Game 7, on the road, the Kings scored three goals in the first period and blasted the Ducks, 6-2.
Off to Chicago, the Kings went to face the defending Stanley Cup champions. They fell behind 2-0 and lost 3-1 in Game 1 and fell behind 2-0 in Game 2, too. Things were looking bleak, but not to the Kings, who cut the deficit to 2-1, then scored five unanswered goals in the third period for a 6-2 win. Jeff Carter recorded a hat trick, and that game changed the series.
When the Kings finally won Game 5 in double overtime on an Alec Martinez goal, Martinez jumped up, threw up his gear and was engulfed in a euphoric group hug.
Defenseman Robyn Regehr was lost to a knee injury in the postseason and didn’t play in the Stanley Cup Final. In a heartwarming moment after captain Dustin Brown was the first to skate around the ice with the Stanley Cup, he passed it along to Regehr.
The players all live in the beaches in the South Bay and are friends. It shows.
“By Browny doing that, it tells you how they feel about each other,” Sutter said.
Justin Williams — Mr. Game 7 — was at his best in the postseason again. He is 7-0 in Game 7s with seven goals and seven assists.
His name was inexplicably left off the Western Conference Finals T-shirts, which was a major oversight. His was the only name missing, but then he won the Conn Smythe Trophy and was so emotional he was brought to tears.
Williams had 25 points, second only behind Anze Kopitar’s 26 postseason points.
The Kings found ways to win in the Stanley Cup Final, jumping out to a 3-0 series lead after an overtime and double overtime in Los Angeles to start the series.
They had so much swagger, the Kings bought a video billboard in Times Square, not far from Madison Square Garden, where Will Ferrell screamed “Go Kings!” and tried to rally support from New Yorkers and tourists.
The Kings lost Game 4, although two pucks sat on the goal line, making for a frustrating loss. But they got the job done at home.
Williams scored the game’s first goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, and after trailing 2-1, Marian Gabroik tied it in the third period and Martinez had the game-winning heroics again.
Martinez, a defenseman who was a healthy scratch sometimes during the regular season for poor play, thrust himself into Stanley Cup playoff lore with those two series-winning goals and was almost embarrassed that he was the one with the game-winning heroics in the Kings’ final two series.
“I thought the playoffs were going to be about highs and lows. This isn’t about me. This is about this team,’’ Martinez said. “(It’s about) the leadership we have in the locker room and the unbelievable group we have.”
Everyone took a turn hoisting the Cup, including Darryl Sutter’s son, Chris Sutter, who was smiling with pure joy. To watch that moment was to love it.
Kings GM Dean Lombardi watched the celebration on the ice and he couldn’t have been more pleased with the job they did. And he made the best mid-season deal in the NHL by trading for Gaborik, who had the most postseason goals with 14.
The future of the Kings is in good hands, considering almost everyone returns next year. The one key free agent Lombardi needs to sign is Gaborik.
The Kings have won the Stanley Cup two of three years and are poised to win more. They did this one the difficult way and nothing was easy in 2013-14, but that made this run all the more special.
It was difficult and brilliant, but it all ended with the Kings becoming Stanley Cup champions again.
“This wasn’t an easy task,” Williams said. “We battled and found a way and that’s what makes it sweeter this time.”
©2014 the Daily News (Los Angeles)
Visit the Daily News (Los Angeles) at www.dailynews.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services