Kings' Road to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final
After being dethroned as the defending Stanley Cup champions by Chicago in the 2013 Western Conference Finals, the Kings entered the new season with a formidable mix of veteran stars bolstered by a continuing influx of fine young talent. After splitting their first two games on the road, they dropped their home opener to the New York Rangers, 3-1, but otherwise got off to a solid 6-3-0 start.
Waves of pain
By November, the injury bug was biting key Kings such as Jonathan Quick, Jeff Carter, Matt Greene, Jarret Stoll, Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis. In all, the team lost 72 man-games through November, but still managed to produce a 16-6-4 record, good for third place in the new Pacific Division, despite scoring the fourth fewest goals in the conference.
With Jonathan Quick, their 2012 Conn Smyth-winning goalie, sidelined for 24 games by the strained groin he suffered against Buffalo on Nov. 12, backup Ben Scrivens helped keep the Kings afloat. But it was rookie third-stringer Martin Jones (pictured) who became a revelation. Starting with his gutsy shootout win over Anaheim on Dec. 3 in his first NHL start, Jones went on to win his next seven, tying Bob Froese's 31-year-old league record of eight victories to start an NHL career. In that span, Jones posted a sparkling .966 save percentage and .980 goals-against average, and shut out three opponents.
On Jan. 25, the Kings took hockey outside in California for the first time, hosting the opener of the NHL's Stadium Series, which also included two matches in New York and one in Chicago. The festivities at Dodger Stadium included the presence Wayne Gretzky, a celebrity hockey game featuring Kings president of business operations Luc Robitaille and actor Cuba Gooding, Jr., plus musical performances by KISS and Five For Fighting. As for the main event in front of 54,099 fans, L.A. was blanked 3-0 by its division-leading local rivals, the Anaheim Ducks, in the league's first regular-season outdoor game ever played in such a southern, warm weather climate. <bold>GALLERY: The NHL Outdoors</bold>
As the NHL prepared to take a fortnight off to let its players represent their countries at the Sochi Winter Games, the Kings played like the break had come two weeks early. In their last 11 games before the Olympics, they went 2-8-1 while Quick, making an unconvincing case to start for Team USA, averaged a 2.46 GAA and .898 save percentage in 10 starts. Even so, he still got the nod to start in the U.S. crease in Russia.
Olympic break...for some
The Kings sent six players to Sochi, including center Anze Kopitar, whose home nation Slovenia made its first Olympic appearance. Defenseman Slava Voynov represented host country Russia and played a memorable game against American teammates Jonathan Quick and Dustin Brown. But Kings forward Jeff Carter (right) and defenseman Drew Doughty were the ones who came back with the ultimate prize: gold medals from Team Canada's dominating performance against Henrik Lundqvist (left) and Team Sweden. Lundqvist and his Rangers would later be waiting for them in the Stanley Cup Final.
When the regular season resumed, the Kings tore through their schedule, going 13-3-0 out of the break including seven straight wins. Their run also included eight consecutive victories on the road, a new team record that was set when they defeated the Penguins in Pittsburgh on March 27 in a foreshadowing of their uncanny ability to prevail away from home during the playoffs.
Marian Gaborik arrives
In the midst of the Kings' late-season surge, general manager Dean Lombardi made a bold move, bringing in goal-scoring winger Marian Gaborik from Columbus at the March 5 trade deadline. Gaborik (12), a shifty if delicate three-time 40 goal scorer, began establishing a chemistry with center Anze Kopitar (rear). It didn't come right away?Gaborik was held off the scoresheet in six of his first nine games as a King?but over time, the speedy winger found his groove with 12 points in his last 10 games of the season and gave the team an offensive boost that would make it much more dangerous in the playoffs.
In their penultimate game of the regular season, the Kings blanked the Oilers, 3-0, for their league-high 13th shutout, a new franchise record. Jonathan Quick led the way with six buckets of whitewash. Backups Ben Scrivens, who was traded to Edmonton in January for a 2014 third-round pick, and Martin Jones combined for seven more.
The great comeback
After losing a shootout to the Pacific- and conference-leading Ducks in the regular season finale, the Kings finished at 46-28-8 and entered the playoffs against the strong and skilled Sharks, who placed second in the division, 11 points ahead of them. Los Angeles quickly found itself in a 0-3 series hole, outscored 17-8 by San Jose's blistering attack. But the series turned in Game 4 when the Kings' offense woke up as the Sharks battled injuries and their own postseason demons. In just the fourth comeback from a 0-3 deficit in NHL history, L.A. outscored San Jose 18-5 in its four straight wins.
Ditching the Ducks
Western Conference champion Anaheim, with its explosive offense led by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, awaited in the second round. Despite their proximity, the local rivals had never met in the postseason, so this promised to be a memorable series for SoCal hockey. And once again, the Kings showed their proclivity for streakiness. After winning the first two games in Anaheim, L.A. dropped three straight, only to rally and force a Game 7, which the Kings won in a 6-2 rout in Anaheim.
Dethroning the Blackhawks
In a rematch of the Western finals, the Kings met the defending champion Blackhawks. It proved to be a thrilling, unforgettable seven-game series that featured a blistering pace, incredible skill, wild momentum swings, and iffy goaltending. After letting Chicago come back from a three-games-to-one deficit, the Kings ultimately triumphed in Game 7 when defenseman Alec Martinez scored at 5:47 of overtime. The deciding game of the series was the most watched non-Cup final match or Winter Classic in the U.S., and it made the Kings the first NHL team to ever win three consecutive Game 7s on the road.
First piece of hardware
Having secured their second Clarence Campbell Bowl in three seasons, captain Dustin Brown and the Kings set their sights on another Stanley Cup. Standing in their way: King Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. Though the Kings were considered the favorites to win the series, they were about to take on an inspired and determined foe. <bold>Read Allan Muir's Stanley Cup Final breakdown and prediction</bold>