Only fitting that Kings win Cup in epic fashion
LOS ANGELES — Alec Martinez couldn’t breathe.
He blacked out momentarily, didn’t fully realize what was going on. And then he came to, in the grips of his teammates, finally fully grasping the magnitude of the moment: He had just scored a goal to win the Stanley Cup.
The Los Angeles Kings, with a rebound and a wrister from their defenseman, were victorious in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. It took nearly two full overtimes and three overtime contests, but the 2013-14 L.A. Kings, the ultimate of overtime victors, eliminated the New York Rangers 3-2 to win their second Cup in three years.
It was the moment that every kid who has ever played hockey has ever dreamed about.
"Every kid who has ever picked up a stick in his driveway has played in this game," he said. "I don’t really care who scores the goal, just as long as it’s someone in our room."
With just over five minutes left to play in the second overtime, Martinez caught the puck in the Kings right faceoff circle. He drove down the ice and passed off to Kyle Clifford in the neutral zone in transition. Clifford passed to winger Tyler Toffoli for the wrist shot and the rebound went right to Martinez for the game-winner.
"I just shot it on the net and then I saw gloves and sticks flyin’ in the air," Toffoli said.
It was a journey, long and arduous and quite remarkable as a whole, culminating in a game that took more than 100 minutes finally win the Stanley Cup.
"There’s no words that can describe what you’re feeling right now," said Williams. "What we went through this year makes it so much more special. Each Cup is unique, but God we earned this one."
For a moment, it looked as though the Kings, who were up 3-1 in the series, would return to New York to attempt to close out the Rangers in six games. And that moment wasn’t brief — it was a long, exhausting moment in which the two teams engaged in a third overtime battle. Legs were tired but adrenaline was high.
One team was playing for the hardware that was just inches away in the tunnel. The other, fighting for its life.
"It was a hard-fought game. I mean, every inch on the ice was contested real hard," said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. "You know, both teams were battling at an unreal level."
Justin Williams, the eventual Conn Smythe Trophy winner, gave the Kings a 1-0 lead in the first period. But the Rangers scored two very quickly — a Chis Kreider power play goal and a Brian Boyle shorthanded goal within a few minutes of one another — and L.A. was suddenly behind as the second period came to a close.
Nearly eight minutes into the third period, Marian Gaborik scored his 14th postseason goal to tie at 2-2. Just like they had in so many postseason games before this one, the Kings evened the game up late to put it into overtime.
Yes, another overtime period. And this one was pure agony.
Shots clanked off the post for both teams, chances were had and broken up. A crowd of 18,713 in Staples Center all stood and no one dared move. Breaths were held, and the tension mounted with each missed shot.
But the Kings had the final say.
"You lose three overtime games in the final, it’s hard to explain," said Rangers forward Brad Richards.
His teammate, Henrik Lundqvist, had a phenomenal series but was still reduced to tears.
"I knew going into this series, it was going to end in tears," said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. "Tears of joy or tears of heartbreak. It’s extremely tough."
No other Stanley Cup-winning team has ever needed 26 games to win. The Kings are the first team to ever play the maximum 21 games in a run up to the Cup. Williams, the right winger no longer nicknamed Mr. Game 7, led all scorers in the Cup Final and finished with 25 in the postseason, earning every ounce of that MVP trophy.
One of the most resilient teams completed one of the most outstanding championship runs. The records the Kings broke along the way are numerous.
Back in San Jose, almost 10 weeks ago, the Kings were left for dead when the Sharks nearly used them as bait. The Ducks, the best team in the West, had them in their clutches just an hour down south and the Blackhawks, formidable in their bid to repeat, are at the golf course while the Kings stand tall as champions once again.
"Of course there’s always doubt," said defenseman Willie Mitchell. "We’ve been through so many game 7s and so many overtimes, that you have doubt. But it’s also a galvanizing thing where you’ve done it before and you know you can do it again.
"To always win this way, is nuts. But we’ll take it."