Monday, June 16, 2014

The not-supposed-to Stanley Cup champions

The Kings will parade the Stanley Cup through Los Angeles today, after earning the title by beating the Rangers on Friday night. You’ve seen the highlight by now — defenseman Alec Martinez jumping into the rush, then burying a rebound to end the game and make the Kings the first team in 34 years to win the Cup in overtime on their home ice. The goal ended the series in five remarkably close games, marking the third time in the final that the Kings beat New York in sudden death.

The win didn’t come as much of a surprise; just two years removed from a championship in 2012, the Kings weren’t exactly a long-shot pick heading into this year’s postseason, and by the time they reached the final they’d established themselves as the favorite.

But while the end result was predictable, the path the Kings followed to get there was not. In fact, the team spent much of the season defying conventional wisdom about how championship teams are supposed to be built. And in doing so, the Los Angeles Kings became the not-supposed-to Stanley Cup champs.

You’re not supposed to come back from down 3-0 in a series. Let’s start there, because it’s where the Kings themselves started, almost eight weeks ago. They opened the playoffs against the San Jose Sharks, a regular-season powerhouse who’d finished 11 points ahead of them in the standings. The Sharks won the first two games in San Jose, pummeling the Kings by scores of 6-3 and 7-2, and then took Game 3 in Los Angeles on a Patrick Marleau overtime winner that should have ended the Kings’ run before it ever really began.

Here’s one of those dirty little secrets of playoff hockey: When a series gets to 3-0, we all close the book. It’s over. We can’t say that out loud, because hey, anything can happen, right? Well, no, it’s can’t, we think to ourselves, and history has shown that we’re almost always right. When the horn sounds on Game 3 and it’s the same team celebrating for the third time in a row, we lift up the losing team by the scruff of its neck and gently place it into a pile labeled “Done.”

But the Kings crawled out of the pile and kept on, staving off elimination with a Game 4 win. There was talk last week of players later telling people that they left the ice after that game already knowing they had the series won, and Drew Doughty came right out said that they could see the panic in the Sharks players’ eyes. There’s probably more than a little bit of revisionist history going on here, but you know what they say about the winners and the history books.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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