Although Mike Richards has only been in Los Angeles for less
than a year, he has a pretty good idea what 45 years of simmering
frustration will sound like when his Kings take the ice with the
Stanley Cup nearly in reach.
”That’s probably one of the loudest rinks I’ve ever played in,
and it’s going to be even louder tomorrow,” the center said
Sunday, already anticipating the energy at Staples Center for Game
3 of the Stanley Cup finals on Monday night.
A coronation just feels imminent for these Kings, who opened the
finals by adding two more victories in New Jersey to the longest
run of road perfection in NHL playoff history – 10-0 this season,
and 12-0 dating to last season.
Now that the Kings are back home on the West Coast, the Stanley
Cup has never been closer to going Hollywood.
Los Angeles is two wins away from claiming the franchise’s first
title and burying 4 1/2 decades of monotonous ineptitude
interrupted only by short stretches of brilliance from Wayne
Gretzky, Marcel Dionne and a few other stars who wore the club’s
ever-changing uniforms – including another switch to that
eye-catching ”LA” logo before this season.
Hockey has always had a steadfast fan base out here among the
movie stars and palm trees, but those fans are conditioned to
accept small victories as fuel for their faith. These Kings have
abruptly erased this club’s tedious reputation with a 14-2 playoff
run that has few equals in NHL history.
”I don’t think I’ve ever been on a team like this where
everybody is locked in,” said Jeff Carter, whose persistence on
the puck led to the overtime goal that won Game 2. ”Everybody
knows what they need to do to go out on the ice and get it
It’s impossible to measure how many casual Los Angeles fans have
resumed their interest in hockey, digging into their closets for
the purple-and-gold Kings hat or that old No. 99 jersey before
jumping on a bandwagon that’s sagging under the weight of witnesses
to this team’s brilliance. Kings gear can be spotted everywhere
from Santa Monica to downtown, from Dodger Stadium to even Angel
Stadium, which sits across a freeway from the archrival Anaheim
Ducks’ home rink.
Yet the Kings are acutely aware their final job is only half
done. Coach Darryl Sutter, the unlikely architect of this playoff
push, spoke with his players on the cross-continental flight home
from Newark about the importance of improving even now, about
realizing their two-month effort isn’t over.
And for all of Los Angeles’ astonishing success in this charmed
postseason surge, the New Jersey Devils have ample reason to
believe their own Stanley Cup dreams aren’t dead.
No playoff opponent has tested the Kings as thoroughly as the
Devils, who would have needed only a stray deflection or a shot
under the crossbar to reverse this series’ results. New Jersey has
limited the Kings’ shots, tested star goalie Jonathan Quick and
twice forced extra time by holding Los Angeles to just one
regulation goal in each game.
”A big win tomorrow would definitely change everything
around,” goalie Martin Brodeur said after the Devils’ brief
workout at the Kings’ training complex Sunday. ”I think we’re
going the right direction. We’re playing well. We’re not getting
outplayed. We’re in a position to turn this series around.”
Even the Kings realize New Jersey’s play so far would win many
series. It hasn’t been enough in this one, but it’s far from
”Jersey has been really successful on the forecheck against
us,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown, who went scoreless in New
Jersey and hasn’t scored a goal since the opener of the Western
Conference finals. ”They’ve been more successful than any team
against us. We’re probably spending more time in our defensive zone
against them than any other team. They’re really making it tough on
New Jersey outplayed Los Angeles for long stretches of its 2-1
overtime loss in Game 2, but the Devils were denied by Quick’s
goaltending and that crossbar, which got in the way of Ilya
Kovalchuk’s open shot with about 18 seconds left in regulation
after Brown’s atrocious giveaway nearly handed the game to New
The Devils also can draw solace from the fact that an 0-2
comeback in the finals was accomplished just last year by the
Boston Bruins, who won four of the final five games to take the
Stanley Cup from the Vancouver Canucks.
”We’ve always been able to bounce back, and that’s what we’ll
try to do,” forward Travis Zajac said. ”We’re not going to get
out of position and try to do too much because we’re behind. We’ve
been behind in a series before, and come back and won it
But the Kings have shown no serious signs that this 7 1/2-week
run of spectacular postseason play is about to end. Look at it this
way: The Kings haven’t even fallen behind in eight of their last 10
games, trailing only in the final two games of the Western
Conference finals against Phoenix.
The last four games of Los Angeles’ postseason have been its
toughest stretch, with a shutout loss to the Coyotes followed by
three straight overtime victories. But the Kings always seem to
find the right matchup, make the right change and get the lucky
break that puts them through to the next stage, outscoring their
opponents 45-24 along the way.
This is just not normal to the long-suffering fans of the Kings,
who still remember how their only other appearance in Game 2 of the
Stanley Cup finals went wrong when Marty McSorley was penalized for
an illegal stick in 1993. The Kings lost that game and the next
three to Montreal, and they haven’t been back to the finals
In fact, they had won one playoff series in the past 17 seasons
before this charmed summer when everything changed.
Even with two wins still to go, the Kings realize they’ve made
”It’s been a long time for these guys,” said Carter, who
arrived in February in a trade that reunited him with Richards, his
friend and longtime Flyers teammate. ”I think it would mean the
world to this franchise. They’ve done a great job of sticking to
the plan here and building this organization, and this would be the