The Kings' Road to the Stanley Cup
On June 23, 2011, the Kings added a key piece to their championship puzzle by acquiring former Flyers captain Mike Richards from Philadelphia for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and a second-round draft pick. During the 2011-2012 regular season, Richards would struggle offensively, posting only 44 points in 74 games played, but he became vital to the Kings' playoff run by producing 10 points in 13 games during the first three rounds.
After a lengthy period of tenuous negotiations, GM Dean Lombardi signed his star defenseman to a new eight-year, $56 million contract on September 30, just before the start of the regular season. Doughty, at just 22 years old, is the cornerstone of LA's defense, having scored more points than any other Kings blueliner since his NHL debut four seasons ago.
With the Kings off to a mediocre 15-14-4 start, on a four-game losing skid, and ranked last in the league in offense, coach Terry Murray was dismissed on December 20, 2011. Eight days later, GM Dean Lombardi announced the hiring of Darryl Sutter as the team's new head coach. Sutter would keep the Kings' eye on defense, but he made them a much more aggressive forechecking team and they promptly went on a 5-0-2 run, finishing with a 40-27-15 record, good for 95 points and the eighth playoff spot in the West.
Four days before the Feb. 27 trade deadline, the Kings sent defensemen Jack Johnson and a conditional first round draft pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for one-time 46-goal scorer Jeff Carter, who also happens to be Mike Richards' old running mate in Philadelphia. After battling injuries throughout the season, Carter performed admirably, posting nine points in 16 regular season games with the Kings and is having a solid playoffs thus far: seven points in 13 games, including a hat trick.
The Kings caught fire in March as they scrapped to get back into the playoff race. Their desperation led to a vital six-game winning streak that saw them take control of the competitive Pacific Division over the Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks for a brief period. The streak began on March 11 when the visiting Kings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in a shootout, 3-2. After the victory in Chicago, they went on to beat the Red Wings, Ducks, Predators, Sharks and Blues, all of which made the playoffs with the exception of the Ducks. By the final week of the season, though, the Kings cooled, backing into the playoffs with two season-ending losses to San Jose.
Entering the playoffs as the eigh seed in the West, the Kings drew the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks in the first round. In a shocking domination, the Kings ousted them in five games after taking a 3-0 series lead. Goaltender Jonathan Quick stifled the explosive Vancouver offense as he surrendered only eight goals while recording a shutout, posting a .953 save percentage. Captain Dustin Brown led the Kings' offense with four goals and an assist.
The Kings met the second-seeded St. Louis Blues, who had disposed of the Sharks in five first-round games and were playing stingy defense led by blueliners Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, and goalie Brian Elliott. However, the Kings beat them at their own game in a stunning four-game sweep. Dustin Brown, again, led the Kings' offense with two goals and four assists. Anze Kopitar contributed two goals and four helpers. Complimenting LA's suddenly explosive offense, which preyed on Elliott as the Blues were unable to turn to injured backup Jaroslav Halak, Jonathan Quick turned in another top-notch series, allowing just six goals-against and finishing with a .941 save percentage to lead his squad into the Western Conference Final.
The Kings entered the series against the third-seeded Coyotes with an 8-1 playoff record, the first eight seed to ever beat a one and a two in the same year. Once again, they started a series on the road, and once again they took a commanding 3-0 lead. Phoenix staved off elimination in Game 4 in LA, but the Kings continued their dominance on the road by closing out the series in Game 5, reaching the Cup final for the first time since 1993. It was their eighth straight road victory of the postseason. Jon Quick had a .939 save percentage and just eight goals-allowed. Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar were a formidable one-two punch, combining for four goals, six assists and a plus-9 rating. Brown also drew the anger of the Coyotes with a devastating, late-game hit on defenseman Michal Rozsival that created a visibily tense atmosphere on the handshake line.
After taking a 3-0 series lead and then losing two potential clinching games, the Kings finished ferociously at Staples Center just when the sixth-seeded Devils appeared to have a chance for one of the biggest comebacks in finals history. One penalty abruptly changed the tone of the series. Brown, Carter and Lewis scored during a five-minute power play in the first period after Steve Bernier was ejected for boarding Rob Scuderi, leaving the veteran defenseman in a pool of blood. Jonathan Quick took it from there, finishing a star-making two months by allowing just seven goals in six finals games. Quick was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy for postseason MVP.