LOS ANGELES – Alec Martinez’s double-overtime goal gave the Los Angeles Kings the 2014 Stanley Cup with a 3-2 home-ice win over the New York Rangers on June 13.
Talk about a Hollywood ending.
The Game Five triumph climaxed one of the most exciting and competitive playoffs in recent NHL history. It was the second Stanley Cup in three years – and team history – for Los Angeles, and there will be talk of a dynasty if the Kings can do it again next year.
Van Halen’s “Top of the World” pumped from the speakers at the Staples Center as the Kings took turns raising the Cup, and that summed up the mood in California’s biggest city.
“I’m no hero,” said the modest Martinez, who went to the net and banged in the rebound from a Tyler Toffoli drive past a lunging Henrik Lundqvist’s goalie stick at 14:43 of the second overtime period. “I’m just the benefactor of the team making great plays. This run has definitely been a team effort.”
The Kings became the first club ever to win three seven-game playoff series before capturing the Cup.
They rallied from a 3-0 series deficit against the San Jose Sharks, making them just the fourth team to accomplish that feat after the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders, and 2010 Philadelphia Flyers.
They were down 3-2 in the second round versus the Anaheim Ducks, but solved rookie goalie John Gibson, the hero of the U.S.’s 2013 World Junior gold medal and 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship bronze medal runs, to win Games Six and Seven.
And in an ultra-dramatic rematch of the 2013 Western Conference finals, the Kings knocked off the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks with a come-from-behind, 5-4 overtime victory in Game Seven. There again, it was Martinez potting the winner.
In some ways, the 26-year-old defenceman is reflective of hockey’s growing footprint in the United States. Martinez was born in Michigan, played minor hockey in northern California, and starred with Miami University in NCAA competition before joining the Kings in 2009-10.
There were many sparkling individual performances for Los Angeles, and many of them came from players with credentials in IIHF competition.
Forward Justin Williams won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. He’s now a three-time Stanley Cup champion after also winning with Carolina in 2006. And the savvy 32-year-old Canadian forward has two IIHF World Championship gold medals from Prague 2004 and Moscow 2007.
Comparing the Kings’ two Stanley Cup runs, Williams said: “2012 went a little smoother. This one was all work and all heart. You win it for everyone who’s been cheering for you your whole life.”
Nicknamed “Mr. Game Seven,” Williams has an all-time record 14 points in that situation, surpassing Doug Gilmour (13).
Puck-rushing defenceman Drew Doughty was considered Williams’ main competition for the Conn Smythe. The 24-year-old Canadian led all playoff blueliners with 18 points, and logged an average of 28:45 per game. Doughty now boasts two Stanley Cups to go with his two Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014) and World Junior gold (2008).
“Drew told me he was going to win two in one year,” said Los Angeles head coach Darryl Sutter. “He said that. He said he was going to win the gold medal and win the Stanley Cup.”
“We never gave up,” said Doughty. “We were fully confident we were going to get to this point. I’m so happy right now.”
The list of kingly Kings is lengthy indeed.
Just as in 2012, centre Anze Kopitar led L.A. and the NHL in playoff scoring, registering 26 points this time. Hailing from Slovenia, which has just 148 registered male senior players, makes Kopitar’s feat all the more extraordinary.
Fleet-footed winger Marian Gaborik made GM Dean Lombardi’s decision to acquire him from Columbus on March 5 look very good. The 32-year-old Slovak was the post-season’s leading goal-scorer (14) en route to his first Cup.
Like Doughty, fellow Canadian Olympian Jeff Carter (the second-leading scorer with 25 points) also celebrated his second major title of the year. However, no new members were added to the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club due to the Kings’ victory. Rangers forward Rick Nash was the only candidate in the Stanley Cup Final.
In years to come, many observers will likely recall the Kings running roughshod over the Rangers. That’s how the series was widely predicted to unfold. And Sutter’s group did dominate the play with its trademark brand of “heavy” hockey, always finding a way to come back. But the opportunism and resilience of coach Alain Vigneault’s Rangers deserves a tip of the hat too.
“The New York Rangers are a hell of a hockey club,” Martinez said. “We knew it was going to be a tough series. The fourth win is definitely the hardest one to get.”
That last statement wasn’t just a cliche. Game Five was the longest game in Kings history, lasting 94:43.
The magnificent goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist helped the Rangers push Los Angeles hard every night. In four of the five final games, the Swedish superstar faced more than 40 shots. He had a heavier workload than his L.A. counterpart, Jonathan Quick, who started for the fourth-place Americans in Sochi.
Yet for the second time this year, Lundqvist had to play the bridesmaid. The 32-year-old product of Frolunda Gothenburg was in net when Sweden lost 3-0 to defending champion Canada in the Olympic gold medal game in February.
Even though New York failed to win its first Cup since 1994, this valiant attempt should still be remembered fondly.
“Both teams were battling at an unreal level,” said Vigneault of the final. “All three games here [in Los Angeles], when you look at it, they all went to overtime.”
They earned seven-game victories over Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the first two rounds. Against the Penguins, they had to come back from a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in club history, and the untimely passing of Martin St-Louis’s mother seemed to give the team a spark of inspiration.
Then the Rangers disposed of Montreal in six games – although in fairness, Chris Kreider’s that knocked Canadian Olympic goalie Carey Price out of the series for the Habs did give them an unexpected advantage.
There were other highlights. Diminutive whiz Mats Zuccarello became the first Norwegian ever to play in the Stanley Cup finals. Derek Stepan, a 2010 World Junior gold medalist for the U.S., shone with 15 points despite playing with a broken jaw.
In the big picture, having a hard-fought final between the two biggest American media markets should spur the growth of hockey in the United States. That can only be good news for a nation seeking its first Olympic gold medal since 1980 and its first IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship since 1933.