By Brian Cazeneuve
It takes more than kings to win Stanley Cups. Sometimes it takes the loyal subject, the support player, the hero hidden in plain sight.
Alec Martinez is the perfect subject, because he doesn’t quite qualify for royalty. Throughout the playoffs, Los Angeles's fourth liners, third-pair defensemen and even Justin Williams were not the names that would roll off the tongue as potential difference makers. Yet there was blueliner Martinez jumping up and down after netting the Cup clincher in double overtime of Game 5 vs. the New York Rangers. There was Williams accepting the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP. There was captain Dustin Brown passing the Cup off to . . . who? Top playoff scorer Anze Kopitar? Nope. Postseason goal leader Marian Gaborik? Not him. Drew Doughty, the ace defenseman? Not so. Surely, then it must be Jonathan Quick, the goalie par excellence and final line of defense on a team that plays it so well. Try again.
Brown instead handed the trophy off to Robyn Regehr, the defenseman who played just eight games in the playoffs. The 34-year old had skated in more than a thousand regular-season games during his career, including 79 this season, without ever hoisting Lord Stanley’s mug. After he suffered a knee injury in the second-round series against Anaheim, Regehr never got back into the lineup, even though he had resumed skating. But this is the Kings’ way. Nobody is forgotten. Everyone is recognized for their contributions.
In a nutshell, that’s why the Kings were able to pass around the Stanley Cup for the second time in three seasons, after their thrilling 3-2 victory on Friday night in L.A.
“It’s the whole group, not one guy,” Brown said at center ice after the game. “Everyone pitched in. Every single guy.”
In the age of salary caps, common free agency and a 30-team league that may expand in the coming years, the Kings are a model for other clubs to watch and emulate. They are big, fast and now holders of two titles in three years.
“How does it feel this time?” said L.A. forward Mike Richards. “Better. This one was harder.”
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It was. The Kings lost four games during their 2012 run when they steamrolled through the rest of the league in the playoffs. In 2014, they needed to win seven elimination games. After capturing the first two games of this series in overtime, they went to extra hockey again in the fifth. This time it was Martinez, joining a three-on-two rush and converting the rebound of Tyler Toffoli’s shot with goalie Henrik Lundqvist down after the initial save.
“Dream come true just to win it,” Martinez said afterwards. And about scoring the winner? “I mean, I can’t even, I don’t know what to say.” Add Martinez to the group. And consider this, the longest game in Kings’ history, as perhaps the most special.
“One for the ages,” said Doughty. “We’ll remember it forever.
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It started well for L.A. The Kings peppered Lundqvist early, taking the first five shots of the game. On the fifth, Justin Williams, a key performer all spring long, jammed a rebound through a scrum of players in front of the Rangers goaltender. It was the Kings’ first lead in any of their three home games during the final, after having to rally for OT wins in Games 1 and 2. For Williams, the man known for seventh-game heroics, the Conn Smythe was confirmation of his history of clutch playoff performances. “I can’t believe I won that,” he said. “That will, I don’t think, ever, ever sink in.”
The Rangers did a good job of pushing back after the Kings grabbed the lead, managing six of the last eight shots of the first period, and left with 48 seconds remaining on a power play after Doughty took a frustration cross-checking penalty against Derek Stepan in the offensive zone while the Kings were on a power play, themselves. It had been the Rangers’ period for much of the playoffs, as New York entered Friday’s game with a +14 mark in opening periods.
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The Rangers picked up the equalizer with 4:23 left to play in the second period, capitalizing on L.A.’s lax play by winning loose pucks. On the man advantage, Chris Kreider converted a clever passing sequence with Ryan McDonagh and Brad Richards.
The Kings were at the end of a long power play when the Rangers jumped in front 2-1 on a shorthanded goal at 19:30 with just two seconds left on a hooking penalty to Dominic Moore. Doughty was the lone Kings player back on the play and he had been out for the entire two minutes when Rangers penalty killer Brian Boyle broke into the zone and froze him by cutting to the outside. Boyle then snapped a shot into the opposite top corner to give New York the advantage that stunned the Kings and the Staples Center crowd.
Doughty wasn’t down for long, even though the game wasn’t his best. The Kings tied the game on a power-play goal with 12 minutes to play in regulation as former Ranger Gaborik tucked in the rebound of a Doughty point shot for his playoff-best 14th tally -- the highest goal total for any player in the postseason since 2009.
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Both teams rang some iron in the first overtime period, as New York’s Ryan McDonagh and Toffoli dinged shots off the post. The Rangers had been excellent survivalists, with a mark of 11-2 in their previous 13 games when facing elimination. Yet they were outshot, 51-30, for the game and ultimately asked too much of Lundqvist. In five previous elimination games this year, he gave up just one goal each time, winning all of them.
“You go into this hoping you don’t regret anything,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said afterwards. “We put it out there. We gave it our best shot.”
Now the question is, do the Kings have the horses to do it again? Can they still be the same complete, unified, unselfish team that triumphed in 2014?
“You saw how hungry we were this time,” said Quick from the ice after the game. “If we ever need to get some of that, we can just remember this.”
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