It was wild. It was unpredictable. The action went back and forth and up and down the ice all night long. Pucks clinked off the goal post and the crossbar … one, two, three, four times in overtime. It was one team, the New York Rangers, playing for its playoff life, against another team, the Los Angeles Kings, aching to celebrate a second Stanley Cup championship in three years on home ice.
It went on and on: one overtime, and then into the second, with enough scoring chances to end half-a-dozen games. Then finally the dam broke when Alec Martinez – of course Alec Martinez – scored the game-winning goal on a rebound at the 14:43 mark of the second overtime period Friday to give the Kings the title.
Martinez also scored the winner in Game 7 of the Western Conference final against the Chicago Blackhawks, proving once again that when the game is on the line, the most unassuming of players can turn out to be the heroes.
“I just saw open net,” said Martinez, “then I blacked out. Scoring goals on a guy like (Henrik) Lundqvist, he’s one of the best goaltenders in the world, so you’ve got to get pucks on net. That’s the approach we took. He had a heck of a series and so did their hockey club.”
Never-say-die can be an over-worn cliché, but it also aptly sums up the path the Kings took in these playoffs, where they never exactly achieved championship form. But what they lacked in efficiency, they made up for in drama.
There were not one, but two three-game losing streaks, which is a hard thing to manage in a best-of-seven series. The run featured a succession of historic comebacks and performances that had the Elias Sports Bureau digging deeply into their data bases night after night.
In order, the Kings were: a) only the fourth team in NHL history to win a playoff series after losing the first three games; b) the only team in NHL history to win three consecutive seven-game series; c) the first team in NHL history to win three consecutive playoff games after trailing by two goals; and d) the first team to hold a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup final after not leading in either of the games.
There are more stats to make the point, but you get the overall picture.
The Kings’ ability to claw out victories after what seemed like certain defeat simply defied logic.
It was a memorable ending to what had been up to that point a less-than-thrilling series. Compared to the tension and overall quality of play in the Western Conference final between the Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks, this series looked slower. Perhaps it was a function of fatigue – the Kings were playing a record-tying 26th playoff game; the Rangers 25. When you factor in how many key players on both sides also competed at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, it added up to a lot of hockey – and up until the final, a lot of it was played at a lightning-fast pace.
“This series was probably, I don’t want to say the easiest, but the least physical and demanding without a doubt,” said defenceman Drew Doughty. “All the other series were more physical. They were tougher on the body. It’s still a good series, but the other ones were tougher.”
The Kings went into the playoffs as the lowest-scoring of the 16 qualifying teams and then promptly led the post-season by averaging just a shade under three-and-a-half per game. Normally, they play a buttoned-down defensive style that you rarely saw until the last few games. They scored goals aplenty, recording comebacks galore. Team captain Dustin Brown said it over and over: That there was belief system in the Kings’ dressing room drawn from stability and trust, which genuinely convinced them they were never out of any game.
Brown accepted the Stanley Cup from commissioner Gary Bettman and then handed it off to Robyn Regehr, who hadn’t played since the second round because of injury.
“I’m emotionally stunned – like I’ve never been before,” said Brown. “I think that’s an accumulation of everything that’s happened.”
With the core of the team so young and mostly signed to long-term contract extensions, the Kings could be competitive for years to come.
“Once we won the first one, all we wanted to do was win another one,” said defenceman Drew Doughty. “We kind of messed that up last year, when we lost the Cup to a better team. But we wanted it back so bad and we felt like it was ours. We got it back and now, we’re happy now.”