Lombardi's faith in trades rewarded in Cup run
Three games into the Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup Final series against the New Jersey Devils, the only remaining question is whether the parade route will travel down Figueroa or Olympic.
Amongst the backdrop of constant "We Want the Cup" chants by a Staples Center record crowd of 18,764, the eighth-seeded Kings improved to 15-2 in the 2012 postseason with an emphatic 4-0 victory that gives them a three games to none series lead, placing the 45-year-old franchise one victory away from its very first Stanley Cup.
In a season in which he could very well pull off a trifecta of winning the Stanley Cup, the Vezina Trophy and the Conn Smythe Trophy, Jonathan Quick may have turned in his very best performance. Amongst his 22 saves came jaw-dropping larceny on Zach Parise and Travis Zajac during a 5-on-3 penalty kill, plus a deflection off his glove to rob Zajac again while the team was ahead by four goals in the third period.
While Quick has been every bit as worthy of the praise heaped upon him during this improbable-if-not-Cinderella playoff run, several skaters have more than rewarded general manager Dean Lombardi for the faith he instilled in them in attempting to rebuild a franchise that had already gone through a bevy of organizational face lifts.
They say "follow your shot" in basketball, and Justin Williams did just that in punctuating Monday's win, snapping home his own rebound to put Los Angeles up 4-0 amidst several indifferent New Jersey defenders that allowed him unfettered access to their net.
Acquired on March 4, 2009, Williams' arrival came two and a half seasons into Lombardi's tenure. While he hadn't experienced the entire turnaround that had begun shortly before the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, the acquisition of a player whose empty net goal cemented Carolina's Stanley Cup run in 2006 was a major catalyst in helping reshape the Kings' skill up front.
"I'm certainly privileged and extremely happy I've been able to play with some really good players. I'm on a line right now with Kopie and Brownie who are playing extremely well and are dominant players out there," Williams said.
"Dean brought me in just to be another piece just like everyone else. He had a vision. His vision is a Cup-winning team. We're close, but we have another hard one to go."
Speaking of trade acquisitions that have sped up the construction process of a team that has seemed to build Rome in a day, Jeff Carter scored for the second consecutive game. Including the regular season and playoffs, Los Angeles is now 28-7-3 since he was acquired from Columbus for Jack Johnson and a first round draft pick on February 23. Fittingly, the feed on the one-timed shot came from former Flyers teammate and fellow trade acquisition Mike Richards, who is a win away from completing his own trifecta of winning the World Junior Championships, the Memorial Cup and a Stanley Cup.
"I couldn't ask for a better place to be right now," Carter said. "I got an opportunity to come here, play in the playoffs, play on a great team. We're one win away from the Stanley Cup now. It's pretty exciting."
In 2007-08, the Kings endured a last place finish in the Western Conference, a vast eight points behind the 14th-place St. Louis Blues. No other western team finished within 25 goals of their alarming 266 goals against, necessitating a June, 2008 trade that brought along building blocks in defenseman Matt Greene and center Jarret Stoll, two players intertwined with the team's stalwart defensive systems and penalty killing.
Los Angeles' goals against have declined every year since the two joined the club to the point where the team's 179 goals against in 2011-12 is a franchise best, save for the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season when the team allowed 174 goals — in 48 games.
"It means a lot," Stoll said of Lombardi's faith in bringing him and Greene aboard, "and you want to bring your game and show him he made the right decision in trading for us. We were both part of the same trade, and we wanted to win here. That was our first meeting with Dean. We wanted to win. This organization had never won before, you know, he told us, ‘we've got to win a cup, we've got to win a cup in L.A. and it would be the best time of our lives,' and he's right."
"We're close, but we've got a long ways to go. It feels good that someone put the faith in you to count on you in those situations."
It has been said many times that the fourth game of a playoff series is the hardest to win, though for the Kings, three previous three-games-to-none series leads this postseason has the team focused on what they have to do to make sure they don't board a plane to Newark Thursday morning.
"We've gone up 3-0 in every series, and the fourth game we've lost two out of three times at home," said Dustin Penner, a Lombardi trade acquisition who has 11 points this postseason.
"We want to change that pattern, but we know it's not going to be easy."
A Game 4 win on Wednesday won't only change their postseason pattern — it would redefine the pattern of an organization that would love nothing more than to celebrate reaching middle age by parading through downtown L.A. with a Stanley Cup.