LOS ANGELES — Being a hockey player in Los Angeles used to be easy. Nobody knew who you were, and nobody cared. This suited Kings defenseman Drew Doughty just fine.
“It’s changed drastically,” Doughty said. “I don’t know if I like it better or not. I, for sure, don’t like it better, actually. The beards we all have don’t help. But back in the day, we could just pretty much roll in anywhere, and there’s no way anyone would know who you were, no possible way. And now it seems like everywhere we do go, we are getting recognized. It’s kind of more like when you’re back home in Canada. It’s great because we’re bringing more fans to the game, we’re making hockey a presence in California. But that was kind of the bonus of playing here, too — you could do what you wanted and not get in trouble for it.”
Not anymore. Some 18,000 pairs of eyes at Staples Center — and millions more at home — were trained on Doughty during Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night as he toe-dragged New York Rangers winger Derek Dorsett out of his skates and scored a spectacular goal to tie it at 2-2 in the second period, eventually sending the game to overtime, where Justin Williams scored at 4:36 to win the game and give the Kings a 1-0 series lead.
The Kings erased an early 2-0 deficit after the Rangers got goals from Benoit Pouliot and Carl Hagelin (shorthanded). Pouliot’s actually came after Doughty failed to execute the same toe-drag that led to his second-period equalizer, leading to a costly turnover and a Pouliot breakaway. But as the Hawks learned three times during the Western Conference final, the Kings don’t sweat 2-0 leads. Kyle Clifford scored late in the first after Jeff Carter won a board battle behind the net, then Doughty took a slick feed from Justin Williams before making his sweet move and a sweet shot to tie it at 2-2.
With his spectacular performance for Team Canada at the Olympics in Sochi, and his brilliant play so far in the postseason, Doughty suddenly is being touted as maybe the best defenseman in the game. The Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith is the favorite to win the Norris Trophy for a second time later this month, and Doughty isn’t even a finalist. But while Doughty might like a quiet, undisturbed evening out with friends, put him in a tournament when the lights are their brightest, and he’s at his best.
He had a goal and six assists in the Kings’ seven-game victory over San Jose in the first round. And he had three goals and four assists in the seven-game defeat of the Hawks, logging between 26 and 30 minutes a night — 39:04 in the epic Game 5, in which he had nine shots on goal. The smooth-skating, puck-moving Doughty also had four goals and two assists in just six games in Sochi.
And he’s only 24, with two gold medals and one Stanley Cup to his name, and perhaps another on the way. No, the Hawks don’t have the market cornered on decorated young superstars, just as they don’t have the only shot at forming some semblance of a dynasty in the Western Conference. The Kings, with Doughty leading the charge, will be there along with them for years to come.
“You look at every great team in history, they’ve always had that great defenseman,” Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said. “Whether it’s [Niklas] Lidstrom, [Sergei] Zubov, [Chris] Chelios, go right through the list. We all know how important those guys were. He’s got a ways to catch those guys, but that’s his goal, to be in that class some day.”