LOS ANGELES — They had to win this way, in this fashion. Another comeback. Another overtime. Another unforgettable, unimaginable mettle-testing, character-revealing victory.
This is the Los Angeles Kings. This is just how they do it.
Alec Martinez scored on a Tyler Toffoli rebound at 14:43 of the second overtime of an extraordinary Game 5 to give the Kings their second Stanley Cup in three seasons, cementing their place alongside the Blackhawks as the clear class of the NHL — the only two teams to win two Cups in the salary-cap era.
“No one would have ever said [the 2012 Cup] was a fluke, because we were a good team,” said star defenseman Drew Doughty of the Kings’ remarkable run to the championship as an eighth seed. “At the same time, now that we’ve won a second time, a lot of people can say if we’re not the best team in the league, we’re a top-two, top-three team in the league. And that’s a great feeling.”
And like the Hawks, they’re not going anywhere. With Doughty, captain Dustin Brown, sniper Jeff Carter and goalie Jonathan Quick locked up for at least five more years, Los Angeles had better get used to hockey in June. Based on a delirious sellout crowd of 18,713 that braved Friday traffic in Los Angeles to make a 5 p.m. start and roared with glee more than four hours later as Brown hoisted the Stanley Cup for a second time, they’re ready for it.
“We’ve done it because we’re a tight team,” Anze Kopitar said. “And we’re going to go after another one pretty soon.”
After his goal, Martinez — who scored the overtime winner in Game 7 against the Blackhawks, too — threw his stick high in the air and was mobbed behind the Rangers goal. He joked he “blacked out” during the celebration. Mere feet away from the jubilation lay Henrik Lundqvist, face down in his crease. Lundqvist was magnificent again, having singlehandedly gotten New York to Game 5, and then to the second overtime, but his 48 saves were not enough against a Kings team that just kept coming. Because that’s what they do.
It was almost two long months ago that the Kings were on the verge of disaster. They were down 3-0 in their first-round series against the San Jose Sharks, having given up 17 goals in just three games. In Game 4 of that series, winning the Stanley Cup wasn’t on their minds. They were just in search of a goal, a win, some dignity.
Four wins later, they had made history. Six weeks after that, they made some more.
Down 3-0 in the first round against San Jose. Three straight Game 7s on the road. Down 2-1 in the third period of this one. The Kings do it the hard way.
“We have a belief within our room that we’re not going to be denied, and we have what it takes,” said Justin Williams, who scored yet another big-game goal to clinch the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. “The confidence within our room — there’s no doubt.”
Oh, but there was doubt in this one. Overtime was hockey theater at its finest, all steely spines and iron posts, a breathtaking barrage of brilliant creation on offense, and brilliant denial in goal. Lundqvist made 13 stops in the first OT, and got help from the crossbar on a Toffoli shot. Jonathan Quick made 10 stops in the first OT, including one on a Chris Kreider breakaway in the final minute, and he got help from the left post when Ryan McDonagh rang the potential game-winner off it.
In the second overtime, the Rangers hit the post on an early power play, Jeff Carter barely missed on his umpteenth chance to win it of the night, and Rick Nash missed a wide-open net when his shot ticked off Slava Voynov’s stick, Voynov’s desperation one-handed reach saving a game that was saved dozens of times before it was finally won.
The Kings outshot the Rangers 51-30, but still almost lost it so many different times in so many different ways.
“There were a few posts, some crossbars — it was a good game, could have went either way,” Doughty said. “I thought we dominated, we outplayed them, no doubt. But we just came up bigger in the end.”
The Kings came out the way you’d expect a team playing for the Stanley Cup on home ice to come out. They fired the first six shots of the game, and took a 1-0 lead when Williams cleaned up a scrum in front of Lundqvist. Williams had five goals and seven assists in Games 5, 6, 7 in these playoffs — 10 games in all. In a crowded field of candidates — Doughty’s minutes-eating brilliance, Marian Gaborik’s league-leading 14 goals, Anze Kopitar’s flawless two-way play — Williams stood out, becoming more than simply “Mr. Game 7” en route to his third career Cup (he also won with Carolina in 2006).
After the game, with the chewed-up ice swarmed by scraggly players, team staffers, families and reporters, Williams — as comfortable in front of the media as any player in the league — fidgeted awkwardly as a reporter called it the “ultimate individual honor.” He tried to defer credit to his teammates before his young son scampered through a maze of legs and into the bedlam, giving Williams the out he needed.
His teammates filled in.
“Justin Williams is an unbelievable hockey player,” Martinez said. “He’s been around for so long. He’s such a great leader in the room. He can do a lot of special things with the puck. He seems like he’s always got the puck on a string. Obviously, you guys have [called] him Mr. Game 7, I think I’ve called him that a couple times, too. But I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s a clutch player. He’s a big-time player. He makes big plays in big games.”
The Rangers — energized and invigorated by a near-miracle victory in Game 4 back in New York — were scrappy to the end, and pushed back. Kreider scored on a power play, and Brian Boyle scored a shorthanded stunner to make it 2-1 after two periods.
But the Kings made it this far on their resilience, their uncanny ability to reset and rebound from nearly any setback. And just like it did in Game 4, the ice started tilting in Los Angeles’ favor in the third period. And unlike in Game 4, the Kings broke through Lundqvist. After Carter gloved a clearing shot to hold the zone, Doughty’s shot made it through and Gaborik stuffed the rebound under Lundqvist to tie the game and ignite the Staples Center, setting the stage for one last remarkable finish in a postseason run full of them.
“To always win this way is nuts,” defenseman Willie Mitchell said. “But we’ll take it.”