LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Forty-five years of frustration were wiped away in one magical night. The Los Angeles Kings are finally true hockey royalty after being crowned Stanley Cup champions for the first time ever.
It was worth the wait.
"You have no idea," said Kings defenceman Drew Doughty. "It's the best feeling ever."
The party kicked off before the first period even ended Monday as Los Angeles romped to a 6-1 series-clinching victory over the stunned New Jersey Devils. With about a minute left in regulation, the Kings players started jumping up and down on their bench in anticipation, and soon captain Dustin Brown was doing a star turn at centre ice with the Stanley Cup above his head.
There was barely a dry eye as they celebrated a championship few saw coming only a couple of months back.
"It's something you can't really explain," said Brown, the second American captain to win the Cup. "It's one of those things where you don't know what it's like until you do it. You're sitting here asking me questions and I don't have an answer for you."
The game turned on a penalty that should immediately erase Marty McSorley's 1993 illegal stick call as the most memorable in Kings history. Devils forward Steve Bernier was given a five-minute major for boarding just over 10 minutes into the game after bloodying Rob Scuderi with a hard hit from behind.
"I wish I could take that play back," Bernier said. "This is extremely hard. It's been a long playoff run for us. To finish on that note, it's not fun for sure, but there's nothing I can do now."
Los Angeles made him pay.
First Brown got a puck behind Martin Brodeur. Then Jeff Carter followed. By the time Trevor Lewis made it 3-0 at 15:01, the Staples Center crowd knew the Kings had all the goals they needed.
After all, Jonathan Quick didn't allow more than that in any game during a dominant 16-4 run through this post-season. The Kings goaltender was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Quick didn't face a lot of shots in Game 6. His toughest task was staying composed as the score went up.
"As much as you keep pushing it out of your mind it'll creep back in," he said. "Especially you get that four-goal lead and it's hard for it not to creep into your head a little bit. But you keep reminding yourself how dangerous of a team they are, and the second you become relaxed and get your mind off what you're supposed to be doing that's when they'll take advantage of you."
The Devils were the first team since 1945 to even force a Game 6 in the Stanley Cup final after trailing 3-0 in the series, and the clincher highlighted why the task of coming all the way back is so daunting. There's no room for bad bounces or bad luck.
New Jersey was it where it wanted to be after weathering an early storm and killing off a minor penalty. And then Bernier crashed into Scuderi. The most difficult part of that penalty for the Devils was the fact it came just seconds after Jarret Stoll had hit Stephen Gionta from behind without a call.
Series over. Devils coach Pete DeBoer was left to bite his tongue during the post-game press conference.
"You know what, tonight is about L.A. and letting them celebrate," he said. "If you want to ask me about that in about a week, I'll give you my honest opinion on it."
The Devils were shaken and their hopes of forcing a Game 7 were soon shattered. It's extremely rare to see a team score three times on a major penalty, especially against a New Jersey penalty kill that was the NHL's best in the regular season at 89.6 per cent. They couldn't maintain that level in the playoffs.
Carter added another goal in the second period while Adam Henrique got the Devils on the board just over a minute before the intermission. However, there was no doubting the outcome as the final 20 minutes ticked away and resignation started to settle in on the New Jersey bench.
"It's pretty awesome obviously when you have a three- or four-goal lead with five minutes left and you know what these guys are capable of doing, then you start seeing it on the bench," said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. "It's the feeling ... seeing them so happy and the work that you go through.
"You know the first thing you think about as the coach? These guys are all young enough the've got to try it again."
As the big moment approached, Cup keepers Craig Campbell and Phil Pritchard stood in the bowels of Staples Center and readied themselves for action as the crowd above them alternated between derisive chants of "Maaaaarrrtty!" and euphoric cries of "We want the Cup!"
And the roar built steadily as the scoreboard clock neared zero. The roof nearly came off when Lewis hit an empty net at 16:15 and Matt Greene beat Brodeur over the glove just 15 seconds later.
All that was left was for Brown to take centre stage.
When the captain finally accepted the Stanley Cup from commissioner Gary Bettman and hoisted it in the air, it provided a fitting scene—he was one of the young players the Kings decided to build around when they were mired in a stretch of eight straight years out of the playoffs from 2002 to 2009.
After all, general manager Dean Lombardi sold long-suffering fans on the idea of a complete rebuild when he was hired in 2006 and had this kind of night in mind. There were plenty of days where it seemed like it would never happen.
"We did it as a team," said Kings forward Dustin Penner, who stepped up his game this spring. "You can see by who scored goals tonight, who scored goals in every previous series. We did it by committee and we had guys step up every night for every win.
"It takes a team to win the Stanley Cup."
There were key moves made along the way.
The trade for Mike Richards last summer, the decision to replace coach Terry Murray with Sutter in December and the acquisition of Carter at the trade deadline was enough to put the Kings over the top. After finishing as the eighth seed in the Western Conference, they found another level during a spring that won't soon be forgotten in Southern California
Not only are the Kings the first eighth seed to win the Cup, they managed to tie for the second-best playoff winning percentage in NHL playoff history along the way. Only the 1987-88 Edmonton Oilers (16-2) were more dominant in the post-season.
Staples Center was the place to be in Los Angeles once again this June—and this time it wasn't because of the Lakers. David Beckham, Larry David and Matthew Perry were among the slew of famous faces who joined the manic towel-waving crowd on Monday, not to mention a long list of Kings alumni.
The Kings have come a long way from the days of garish purple and yellow uniforms. They finally have their Stanley Cup, fittingly following the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 as the last two teams to clinch one on home ice.
"So many people, so many fans," said Luc Robitaille, the Hall-of-Famer-turned-Kings-executive. "The fans here, they deserve this. They've been bleeding for this organization. It's been amazing."
Notes: Kings forward Simon Gagne played only four games after suffering a Dec. 26 concussion but will get his name on the Cup ... The only other time Los Angeles scored three power-play goals in a playoff period was May 27, 1993 against Toronto ... Announced attendance was 18,858.