The Los Angeles Kings made their fans wait a little longer than expected to raise the franchise’s second Stanley Cup in three years. But hey, it’s Hollywood. What good is a storyline without a little drama?
Alec Martinez’s goal at 14:43 of the second overtime gave Los Angeles a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers on Friday at Staples Center in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. It also gave the Kings a 4-1 series win, making Los Angeles the only one of the NHL’s past six champions to win the Cup on home ice — and the Kings did it twice.
Los Angeles joins Chicago as the only two-time winner in the salary-cap era. With a core of players still in their prime, and a glut of young talent contributing, the Kings should be challenging for more in the coming seasons.
Los Angeles became the first team in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup after playing the maximum 21 games in the first three rounds. The Kings are also the first team to win the Stanley Cup after playing as many as 26 games in the playoffs.
To do it, they erased a 3-0 series deficit to beat the San Jose Sharks in the first round. They won Games 6 and 7 against the Anaheim Ducks in the second round, and they held off 2013’s champ, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the Western Conference Final by winning Game 7 in overtime.
To put the final jewel in the crown, L.A. played 94 minutes Friday, the longest game in franchise history.
"I’m emotionally spent like I’ve never been before," Kings captain Dustin Brown said.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Duh! The Cup-winning goal: Alec Martinez was Johnny on the spot. In an odd-man rush, Martinez was all alone at the left post when Tyler Toffoli’s well-placed shot caromed off Henrik Lundqvist’s right pad directly onto Martinez’s stick with a yawning net awaiting. Martinez’s goal set off a raucous celebration at Staples Center.
Marian Gaborik’s 14th of the postseason: L.A. was all over New York in the third period, but Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was doing his thing to preserve a 2-1 lead until Gaborik poked a rebound of Drew Doughty’s wrist shot between Lundqvist’s legs to pull the Kings even midway through the period and set the stage for Martinez’s dramatics.
KEY STAT Alec Martinez also scored the Game 7 OT winner vs. Chicago in the Western Conference Final. Coupled with the Cup-winning goal, he’s giving teammate Justin Williams some competition for the title of Mr. Clutch.
THREE STARS: 1. D Alec Martinez, Los Angeles: How do you not give the Cup-winning goal scorer the first star?
2. G Henrik Lundqvist, New York: Lundqvist was ridiculous again, stopping 48 shots and coming ever so close to pushing this series back to New York for Game 6.
3. RW Justin Williams: The Conn Smythe Trophy winner (playoff MVP) had a goal and a whopping eight shots on net.
LW Tanner Pearson, Los Angeles: Pearson didn’t have anything to show for his efforts, but he was one of L.A.’s best players. He had five shots, he was relentless on the forecheck and he was around the puck all night.
"This one was tough. I think we’ve got a real appreciation for what it takes now to win this." — Kings center Jeff Carter
"It’s pretty sweet. To get that award and to get the ovation that I got from my teammates was pretty special and emotional." — Kings wing Justin Williams on winning the Conn Smythe Trophy
"You go into this hoping that you don’t regret anything. We put it out there. We gave our best shot, best effort. Three games here all went to OT. What can I say?" — New York coach Alain Vigneault
"I knew going into this series it was going to end in tears: Tears of joy or tears of heartbreak." — New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist
WHAT WE LEARNED
The Rangers were a better team than we thought. Their speed gave L.A. problems at times, their special teams were solid in this series and Lundqvist was arguably the best player on the ice in three of the series’ five games (that part didn’t surprise us).
But New York’s inability to finish — a weakness we suspected and highlighted at the start of this series — proved deadly. New York scored 10 goals in the series’ five games that included five overtimes. It doesn’t take a math professor to know that’s not a good average — and not good enough to win the Stanley Cup.
The Rangers’ forward depth held up surprisingly well, but the lack of top-end skill outside of Martin St. Louis — Rick Nash didn’t produce — was a deficiency they could not overcome.
It’s hard to say whether this Rangers run, which included a rally from a 3-1 series deficit to Pittsburgh, is a harbinger of bigger things or an anomaly in a year when the Eastern Conference was weak and top seed Boston unexpectedly fell in the second round.
But if the Rangers want to get back to this point next season, they might want to take a long look at some of the top-tier, free-agent forward talent on the market this offseason.
How good were the 2014 NHL playoffs?
Neither of the teams that competed for the Stanley Cup finished in the top four of their conference standings. And Friday’s game marked the 26th overtime game since the Stanley Cup playoffs began.
The NCAA Tournament, the NFL playoffs and the World Cup offer their own brand of drama, but if it’s unpredictability you like, it’s hard to match the NHL’s postseason product.