Updated at 1:03 a.m., June 12, 2012
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Hooray for Hockeywood.
The Los Angeles Kings’ 45-year quest for an NHL title ended Monday night with an early flurry of power-play goals, followed by two periods of unbearable anticipation — right up to the moment when Dustin Brown snatched the Stanley Cup from Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Brown skated to center ice and thrust the 36-pound silver trophy skyward, the captain never flinching under the weight. Long-suffering L.A. fans, who had never even seen hockey’s greatest prize, went crazy.
The Kings are NHL champions for the first time, and all the men in black played a role in this Tinseltown blockbuster.
Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis scored two goals apiece, playoff MVP Jonathan Quick made 17 saves in his latest stellar performance, and the Kings beat the New Jersey Devils 6-1 in Game 6 of the finals, becoming the first eighth-seeded playoff team to win the league title.
Brown had a goal and two assists for Los Angeles, which ended its spectacular 16-4 postseason run in front of a crowd including several dozen Kings faithful who have been at rinkside since the team’s birth as an expansion franchise in 1967. Every other year ended unhappily.
“Every single guy worked so hard for us this season,” said defenseman Drew Doughty, who began the year as a contract holdout and finished with six points in the finals, including two assists in the clincher. “Everyone deserves this. We got used to each other, we developed a chemistry, and we just went sailing from there.”
After taking a 3-0 series lead and then losing two potential clinching games last week, 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. Quick took it from there, finishing a star-making two months by allowing just seven goals in six finals games.
“You never know. You get to the dance, you never know what’s going to happen,” Brown said. “We calmed down after losing two. It was the first time we had done that all playoffs, and we finally got off to a good start.”
Martin Brodeur stopped 19 shots for the Eastern Conference champion Devils, just the third team to force a Game 6 in the finals after falling into an 0-3 hole. Rookie Adam Henrique ended Quick’s shutout bid late in the second period after the Kings had built a 4-0 lead, but Lewis and Matt Greene added late goals for the Kings.
“We never lost our confidence,” Quick said. “We had to take it on the chin to keep moving, losing two, and we looked at it as, `Hey, we still have to win one game to win a championship. And we have two chances.’ Finally, we were able to do it at home.”
The Kings steamrolled everyone in their path after barely making the playoffs, eliminating the top three seeds in the Western Conference in overwhelming fashion as they matched the second-fastest run to a title in modern NHL history. Although the Devils gave them a little trouble, the Kings boasted a talented, balanced roster that peaked at the absolute perfect time under midseason coaching hire Darryl Sutter.
Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy, adding one more dominant game to a run in which he set NHL records for save percentage (.946) and goals-against average (1.41) among goalies who played at least 15 postseason games. Brown capped his own impressive playoff work by finishing with 20 points, tied for the postseason scoring lead with linemate Anze Kopitar.
And Brown, just the second American-born captain to raise the Cup after Dallas’ Derian Hatcher, accomplished what even Wayne Gretzky couldn’t do in eight years in Los Angeles.
Brown handed off the trophy to Willie Mitchell, the 35-year-old defenseman who had never won a title. Mitchell gave it to long-injured and recently returned forward Simon Gagne, who nearly tripped before raising the Cup for the first time.
Sutter, the stone-faced Alberta farmer from a family of hockey-playing brothers, smiled like a kid at his first chance to lift the prize, and general manager Dean Lombardi even took a turn after declining it twice. Later, Justin Williams sat his crying daughter in the Cup, and Kopitar raised it while wearing a gold crown on his head.
After going on a 12-2 tear to the Western Conference title, the Kings won the first two games of the finals in overtime by identical 2-1 scores in New Jersey, leading many to assume another one-sided series victory was upcoming. Los Angeles then flattened the Devils 4-0 in Game 3, but missed its first chance to clinch on home ice when Henrique scored the tiebreaking goal with 4 1/2 minutes left in New Jersey’s 3-1 win in Game 4.
The Devils then beat Los Angeles 2-1 in Game 5, earning another cross-country trip after becoming the third team in NHL history, and the first since 1945, to win twice after falling behind 0-3 in the finals.
“You don’t give yourself a lot of room for error, finding yourselves in a pretty deep hole,” Devils captain Zach Parise said. “It’s hard, but we really felt like could get back in this and force a Game 7. We did give our best, but we just came up a bit short, unfortunately.”
The Kings were the West’s bottom seed after failing to clinch a playoff berth until right before their 81st game, but only because they underachieved for much of the season. Their talent finally came together under Sutter, who replaced the fired Terry Murray shortly before Christmas and turned Los Angeles into a contender by late February.
Five years after the Anaheim Ducks won California’s first Stanley Cup, the Golden State’s oldest team raised the second. The Kings also are the first team to win the Cup at home since those Ducks, and their fans appreciated the Hollywood touch.
Despite coming off their first back-to-back losses of the playoffs, the Kings started with impressive energy in Game 6, getting most of the good early scoring chances — and then they got the break they needed when Bernier pushed Scuderi headfirst into the boards behind Quick’s net. Scuderi stayed motionless for quite a while, eventually heading to the dressing room after leaving plenty of blood from his lacerated nose.
Bernier, a 27-year-old journeyman and depth forward with two goals in 24 playoff games this season, went to the locker room. The Devils complained Jarret Stoll received no penalty for checking Stephen Gionta into the boards between the benches a moment earlier.
“I wish I could take that play back,” said Bernier. “I didn’t want to hurt my team. I wanted to help them. This is extremely hard. It’s been a long playoff run for us. To finish on that note, it’s not fun for sure. But there’s nothing I can do now.”
The Kings then went to work on a power play that nearly measured up to the Miracle on Manchester — the famed 1982 playoff game in which Los Angeles rallied from a 5-0 deficit in the third period against Edmonton with a dynamic power play.
Brown scored 53 seconds in, slickly redirecting Drew Doughty’s low pass in front for his first goal since the Western Conference finals opener. Brown’s physical play and goal-scoring in the first-round series against Vancouver set a tone for the entire playoffs, but New Jersey had effectively shut him down until Game 6.
Carter then scored his seventh goal of the postseason after Brown walked the puck out of the corner and fired a shot at Brodeur’s glove side while skating away from the net. The midseason acquisition has been a dependable scorer ever since he was reunited with longtime Philadelphia teammate Mike Richards on the Kings’ second line.
With the Los Angeles crowd on its feet, the Kings added another as rookie Dwight King ferociously drove the net and left a rebound for Lewis, who tucked it home for his first goal in 18 games. Staples Center was deafening for the rest of the first period, and Los Angeles went up 4-0 just 90 seconds into the second when Brown found Carter unchecked in the slot for a one-timer.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Sutter said.
“It’s the feeling of seeing them so happy, the work that you go through. The first thing you think about as a coach — these guys are all young enough, they’ve got to try it again.”
NOTES: The Kings are the first team to clinch the Stanley Cup on their home ice since the Anaheim Ducks did it five years ago. They’re also just the second No. 8 seed ever to make the finals. Edmonton lost in seven games in 2006. … Only four Kings had previously won the Stanley Cup — Dustin Penner, Scuderi, Justin Williams and Colin Fraser, who didn’t contribute much to Chicago’s 2010 run. … David Beckham, Matthew Perry, James Gandolfini, Alyssa Milano and My Chemical Romance attended the game. My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade” has become the black-jerseyed Kings’ unofficial anthem after its incorporation into a clever pregame video featuring photos of several Kings as kids.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)