SANTA CRUZ, June 24, 2014—The recently concluded Stanley Cup final was both incredibly entertaining and fiercely contested. The New York Rangers played as well as any team who loses one game to four can, and, with their second cup in three years, the hockey world is already suggesting the Los Angeles Kings are a dynasty.
The final was compelling in how close each game was, particularly the first two, both of which the Kings fell behind 2-0 early before eventually winning. It has been this ability to come from behind and never become desperate which have punctuated Los Angeles’ championship run.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Kings found themselves down three games to none to the San Jose Sharks. San Jose was clearly in the driver’s seat in the series, and had succeeded in shelling and befuddling the Kings all-star goaltender Jonathan Quick. Sharks fans were already planning the Stanley Cup parade route when the teams took the ice in Los Angeles for game four, but the Kings were anything but desperate. Though on the brink of elimination, they were oddly stoic on game day. To talk with the players or coaching staff, one would never guess that they were the team behind in the series.
Hockey teams ideally are an extension of their coach and their captain. Anybody who has watched analysts try to interview Kings Head Coach Darryl Sutter knows his penchant for the quick, terse non-answers. He is a no frills, old school hockey guy, and he has no time for generic explanations or flowery soliloquies.
When the New Jersey Devils were perennial cup contenders in the late 90s and early 00s, they exuded many of the same characteristics of this current Kings squad. It never seemed to matter what the score was or how much time remained in the game, the Devils always played as if they expected to win. There was no panic, no players pressing and trying to singlehandedly win the game. The team bought into a concept conceived by coaches and management, and each player knew and accepted their smaller role in the greater scheme.
Once the Kings took the lead in game seven against San Jose, the Sharks became completely unglued. Players were flinging the puck around without any cogent plan, and individuals were trying to do too much, rather than relying on a team concept. Fast forward to the first two games of the Stanley Cup final, when the Kings found themselves down two goals, and there was no panic.
The Kings believed they would emerge victorious if they stuck to their game plan and continued to execute it. They played methodically, calmly, and remained responsible and opportunistic, and were able to overtake the Rangers in both contests.
Los Angeles owed much of their success to this team’s architect, Dean Lombardi who, along with Luc Robitaille, Rob Blake and director of amateur scouting Mike Futa have assembled a core of hard working, character players. Perhaps more impressive is that the bulk of this unit has been built through scouting and the draft. Lombardi has shrewdly sprinkled in the right free agents here and there without upsetting the chemistry of the team or its leadership group.
With Martin Jones backing up Quick in goal, and 2010 first round pick Derek Forbert poised to start his professional career, the hockey future is bright in the city of angels, and dethroning these Kings will be a difficult task for the foreseeable future.
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.