It took 45 years for the Los Angeles Kings to win their first Stanley Cup. It did not take them nearly as long to win their second. With a 3-2 overtime victory on Friday night, Los Angeles defeated the New York Rangers to win the Stanley Cup Final series, and earn their second Cup in three years. Alec Martinez was the hero in double overtime, scoring the Cup-winner with just over five minutes remaining in the second overtime period.
Los Angeles road to hockey’s ultimate prize was a long one. The first three series in their run went the full seven games, and though their series against the Rangers only took five games, Game One in the series went to overtime, Game Two went to double overtime, and the deciding game went to double overtime. By taking 26 games, the Kings had the longest run a team has taken to win the Cup. It was a stark difference from their Stanley Cup run in 2012, when the team took only 20 games to win the Cup, one of the shortest runs a team can take.
Friday’s night game saw Los Angeles take advantage of their home ice advantage. Fueled by the raucous crowd, the Kings controlled the play from the opening puck drop. Los Angeles defenseman Jake Muzzin drew an early powerplay for his team, after the officials caught the stick of New York forward Rick Nash hooking the young defenseman. Though they did not convert on the ensuing powerplay, it was only because of the continued stellar play of New York goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist appeared to be the only Ranger player awake during the opening minutes of the game, as Los Angeles peppered him with shots attempting to get the early lead.
The Kings did eventually get that lead, thanks to winger Justin Williams. After an initial shot by Jared Stoll, both the Los Angeles forwards and the Rangers defense crashed around Lundqvist’s net in attempt to grab the rebound. Williams stayed on the perimeter of the crowd, allowing him to grab the puck and backhand it past a sprawling Lundqvist. Williams has been a clutch player for his team, contributing 25 points in the playoffs with many of them coming in Game Seven. For his ability to come up big when the team needed it the most, Williams earned the nickname “Mr. Game Seven”. At the end of the game, the forward also earned some valuable hardware. He became one of two active players with three Stanley Cups to his name (he won one in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes) and he also earned the Conn Smythe trophy, given to the player deemed to be the most valuable to his team in the playoffs.
The goal seemed to finally cause the Rangers to become invested in the game, as they provided some pushback of their own shortly after. Though New York earned a powerplay of their own when Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown interfered with Marty St. Louis, the Rangers were unable to create many chances. The two teams traded penalties late in the period, but no more goals would be scored. After one period, the Kings led 1-0.
The second period began similarly to the first. Los Angeles killed off the remaining few seconds of a late penalty, then went on the attack. However, as in the first, Lundqvist quickly snuffed out any chances the Kings were able to generate. An uneasy feeling was beginning to build in the arena, as a one-goal lead is hardly the safest lead. The fans were right to be concerned. A late powerplay goal by Chris Kreider tied the game at one, and the Rangers took the lead with only second remaining in the period. After a questionable call against Dominic Moore, Ranger forwards Carl Hagelin and Brian Boyle led a shorthanded rush up the ice. Boyle skated around defenseman Drew Doughty and picked the top left corner of the Los Angeles net to give New York the lead. Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick appeared to be surprised by how quickly Boyle was able to maneuver around Doughty, playing the shot completely off angle.
Knowing they only had one period remaining to win the Cup on Friday night, the Kings came out of the second intermission more determined than ever. Forcing turnovers, blocking shots, and putting every shot on net, Los Angeles simply dominated the Rangers in the third period. After forcing countless icing calls, and numerous show-stopping saves from Lundqvist, the strong play of the Kings drew another powerplay chance, an opportunity they would capitalize on. Former Ranger Marian Gaborik grabbed the rebound of Doughty shot, putting the puck past Lundqvist and tying the game at two. With the crowd awakened, the Kings continued to hound the puck, and if not for the continued stellar play of the New York goaltender, would have won the Cup in regulation.
Instead, the game entered overtime, where Alec Martinez was the hero. The play of Los Angeles in the third period, where they outshot the Rangers 12 to 3, continued in overtime. Lundqvist remained strong in net, but put enough shots on any goaltender, and one is going to find its way past. The New York goaltender turned away 20 shots in overtime, but it was the 21st that caused celebration in California. Fourth-line forward Tyler Toffoli took a shot off the pads of Lundqvist, and Martinez grabbed the rebound to score into the wide open net.
Going into the playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks were the talk the hockey world, with many questioning whether they might repeat as champions and become the next great NHL dynasty. With two Cup wins in three years, and a Western Conference Finals appearance sandwiched in between, the Los Angeles Kings have their own argument for why they could be considered a modern-day dynasty.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner