After watching the best postseason run I have witnessed in my moderately short life, it is clear that this Kings team is special. They possess an almost indefinable quality that allowed them to persevere through a historically arduous 26 games. A three game losing streak to start the playoffs, followed by three road game 7 wins against arguably three of the top six teams in the league, with the Kings being one of the other three, and a deceptively easy Stanley Cup Finals has been the path this team followed on their way to their second Stanley Cup in three years.
When Dean Lombardi was hired back in 2006, he looked to instill a culture within the organization, starting from the net and working out. It seems his vision has come to fruition as the Kings are an organization that has every member buying into a possession-based, defense-first style of play. They are a team who is greater than the sum of its parts, something that cannot be said about many other very talented teams. The Sharks and Penguins are the first that come to mind. Outside of the intangibles, they also have depth that cannot be matched, a world class goaltender, one of the best defensemen in the league, one of the best centers, and almost every pivotal player is under the age of 30.
As it seems to be the blueprint for champions, I too will start from the net and work my way out. Jonathan Quick was drafted 72nd overall in 2005. He was supposed to be a stand-in until Jonathan Bernier developed enough to become the starting goalie. However, his explosiveness, flexibility, and mental fortitude have turned Quick into one of the most feared goaltenders in the league. He was underwhelming in these playoffs, especially if you compare him to the 2012 playoff version of himself, but he made saves when it mattered the most. Many critics claimed that the Kings were winning in spite of Quick, but if Quick doesn’t make the incredible glove save on Marleau in Game 7 against the Sharks, I’m not so sure the Kings win that game. Game 3 against the Rangers was certainly his most impressive, turning away 32 shots for the shutout and stripping the Rangers of almost all hope they had of winning the cup. He repeatedly made saves that robbed opponents of the belief that they could win at the times when it mattered most, completely swaying the momentum of games with one flash of his glove or acrobatic dive to the side, making Quick just as instrumental in this Stanley Cup run as any of the players in front of him.
The blue line could have been better throughout the playoffs, sporting a 2.69 GAA, a far cry from their league leading 2.05 GAA during the regular season. This can be attributed to a few injuries as well as a lack of speed with a few of the veteran defensemen that was exploited by the Kings’ opponents. There were also a number of uncharacteristic turnovers and mental lapses throughout the playoffs, most likely a result of three emotionally and mentally taxing series to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. The best among the Kings’ defense corps, Drew Doughty, is only 24 years of age and continues to improve upon his stellar play and resume. He has two Olympic gold medals and two Stanley Cups to his name and it appears as if he has a very bright future. He led all defensemen in scoring in the playoffs with 18 points and played a crucial role on the defensive end of the ice in every game. The Kings have a superstar in Doughty, a player who knows how to win and continually plays his best hockey when the stage is biggest. The Kings also have bright young players in Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez, and Jake Muzzin. Muzzin had a breakout year and was second on the Kings blue line with 12 points throughout the playoffs. Martinez came up huge with the series-clinching goal in overtime of game 7 against the Blackhawks and the Cup-clinching goal in double overtime of game 5 against the Rangers. This leaves a solid group of veterans in Mitchell, Greene, and Regehr that provide the experience and stability that round out the Kings’ defensemen.
The Kings group of forwards are deep, Mariana Trench deep. Credit Dean Lombardi for this depth, as it was his trade for Gaborik that allowed a shuffling of lines that threw Williams on the 3rd line and Richards on the 4th. The centers consist of Kopitar, Carter, Stoll, and Richards, a group that cannot be matched by any other team in the NHL. Anze Kopitar, at 26, is finally getting the credit he deserves. He has long been one of the best two-way centers in the league and he further proved this by leading the playoffs in scoring with 26 points and continuously shutting down the oppositions top players. Kopitar had to match up against some of the best centers in the league in Thornton, Getzlaf, and Toews; my apologies to Derek Stepan. With the exception of maybe Jonathan Toews, Kopitar got the better of every single matchup, dominating his opposition at times. This playoff run shed light on the beauty that is Kopitars’ 200-foot game and hopefully gives him the recognition that he deserves going forward. Gaborik brought a consistent scoring threat from the wing that had been lacking in this era of Kings hockey and he executed perfectly throughout the playoffs, leading the league with 14 goals. Carter is always a threat to score and provided stability to a line that saw youngsters Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli prove they are ready for full-time NHL duty. Williams, the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, routinely contributed when it mattered most. Dubbed “Mr. Game 7″ due to his knack for playing his best hockey when anything less might mean the end of the season, he led the Stanley Cup Finals with 7 points in 5 games and had a plus-minus of +13 throughout the entire playoffs, the best mark in the league. Even more impressive is the fact he had 10 points, 5 of which were goals, in the 7 elimination games the Kings played. Dustin Brown and Mike Richards are players that don’t stand out on the stats sheet but consistently lead through the grit, determination, and effort they display on the ice. Factor in depth forwards Clifford, King, and Lewis, and this group of forwards is as scary and talented as they come.
This team believes in the culture Dean Lombardi has created, they believe in the defense-first style of play Coach Daryl Sutter preaches, and they play as a single-unit driven entirely by a single motive: to win Lord Stanley’s Cup. This team is special, and they are young, and they are very talented. They have the resiliency to consistently overcome deficits to the point that they create history. They may have some different pieces in place next year, but I wouldn’t expect this to be the last time this core group of Kings gets crowned.