LOS ANGELES — The first one is always going be the sweetest, but as the Kings stood on the ice hugging their wives and kids and teammates Friday night at Staples Center, they knew this Stanley Cup would have a special place.
To win it, they had to survive three seven-game series, seven overtime games, every kind of emotional test and a constant feeling that their playoff lives were always on the brink.
They earned the right to be exhausted.
"I’m emotionally spent like I’ve never been before," team captain Dustin Brown said. "I think that’s just an accumulation of everything."
Everything took them to the final, dizzying moment — a rebound goal by defenseman Alec Martinez 14 minutes and 43 seconds into the second overtime to beat the New York Rangers 3-2. And then Staples erupted.
That’s two Stanley Cups in three seasons. In 2012, the Kings went up 3-0 against the New Jersey Devils, lost the next two games and then closed it out in Game 6. Otherwise, their road to the championship was far less stressful.
So did doing it this way make it more special?
"I guess you could say that," Martinez said. "I guess it’s more of a storyline, but regardless of how you do it, it’s an unbelievable feeling. I’m just so happy that we’ve been able to do it."
But consider the path they took. They fell behind 3-0 in games to the San Jose Sharks before winning the opening series in seven. They had a 3-1 lead over the Ducks, let it slip away and were forced to win in seven games again. In the Western Conference final, they outlasted the Chicago Blackhawks — in seven games, of course — by winning in overtime on a goal by Martinez.
In playing 26 postseason games, the Kings matched a single-season NHL record set by the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers and the 2004 Calgary Flames. But both of those teams lost their Game 7s.
"This was probably the most challenging year we’ve had, probably as a team," Brown said. "The way we played in the playoffs, we made history the first time one way and we made history another way this time. It’s hard to put into words really."
Perhaps strangely, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty insisted the Rangers were a less taxing series than the first three.
"This series, I don’t want to say the easiest, but (it was) the least physically demanding without a doubt," he said. "The other series were more physical, more tougher on the body.
"It could’ve gone either way. I thought we dominated. We outplayed them no doubt, but we just came up bigger in the end."
Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell conceded this season’s team faced adversity similar to the 2012 team. But both times, the Kings survived to hoist the Cup at home.
"I think we were in some situations (in 2012) that we kind of crawled out of," he recalled. "Usually when that happens, it kind of galvanizes a group, and we find a way to get it done. Same thing here. We scratched, clawed and here we are.