The Los Angeles Kings are Stanley Cup champions.
The Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils in six games to claim hockey’s ultimate prize. After two one goal, overtime wins in New Jersey, the Kings then dismantled the Devils 4-0 in Game 3 to take a stranglehold 3-0 series lead. It was a deficit only three teams in NHL history have overcome. Only one team managed to come back in the Finals after falling into such a hole. The Devils fought valiantly, stealing a 3-1 victory in Game 4 and a 2-1 victory in Game 5. New Jersey’s timeless gem, goalie Martin Brodeur, played a world-class game at age 40, driving the series to six games with his outstanding play. In the end, the 3-0 deficit proved to be too much, and the Kings took Game 6 by a 6-1 score…three goals coming off a five minute major to Devil Steve Bernier.
The Kings rode their own hot goaltender in Jonathan Quick, who captured the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoffs’ Most Valuable Player. The Kings went 16-4 in this year’s playoffs, eliminating the top three seeds in the Western Conference with a combined record of 12-2 in the first three rounds. They then outlasted the Devils in six games. It is the Kings’ first title since they joined the National Hockey League for the 1967-68 season.
Aside from 1993, the Kings and their fans have suffered through years of playoff futility. Let’s take a look at the playoff history of the Los Angeles Kings, starting with their inaugural season.
In 1968, L.A. was the only one of the six original expansion teams to have a winning record at home. They finished one point behind the Philadelphia Flyers (the six expansion teams were all put into a new division to ensure participation in the playoffs). Despite their early success, the Kings were bounced from the postseason by their expansion counterparts, the Minnesota North Stars. In 1969, the Kings won their first ever playoff series, eliminating the Oakland Seals in seven games, before bowing out to the St. Louis Blues in five games.
This started a string of futility in Los Angeles, as the Kings would miss the playoffs from 1970 to 1973. They made their return in 1974, this time losing in the first round to the Chicago Blackhawks, and also falling in the first round in 1975 to the Toronto Maple Leafs. This was a team that seemed destined to be classed among the NHL’s afterthoughts, as their role seemed to be a first round tuneup for the NHL’s more prominent teams.
The 1976 and 1977 postseasons were mirror images of each other for the Kings, as they would defeat the Calgary Flames in the first round of each of these years, yet fall to the Boston Bruins in the second round. From 1978 to 1981, the Kings failed to advance out of the first round, losing to the New York Rangers twice (1979 and 1981), the Maple Leafs (1978), and the New York Islanders (1980).
In 1982, the Kings finally made it to the second round, defeating the Edmonton Oilers. It was this series that the Kings manufactured one of the greatest comebacks in NHL playoff history. In Game 3 of this series, the Kings fell behind the Oilers 5-0 after two periods. The Kings would score five times in the third, the last coming with only five seconds left in the period. The Kings would win it in overtime on a goal by Daryl Evans. However, after winning the first round showdown with the Oilers, the Kings would bow out in five games to the Vancouver Canucks.
This started another string of futility for the Kings, as they missed the playoffs in 1983, 1984, and 1986. This was interrupted by a sweep in 1985 at the hands of the same Oilers they had defeated in 1982.
The Kings would lose in 1987 in the first round to the Oilers, who had become the league’s dominant team. They then lost to the Flames in the first round in 1988.
In 1989, the Kings found themselves facing the Oilers again…and they took out the defending Stanley Cup champions in seven games. They then would be swept by the Flames, who went on to win the Stanley Cup that year.
In 1990, the roles would be reversed. The Kings eliminated the Flames in six games, meaning Los Angeles would eliminate the defending champions in two straight years in the first round. They were then swept by the Oilers, who went on to reclaim the Cup.
Los Angeles would win their first ever regular season division title in 1991, and would take out the Vancouver Canucks in the first round. They then fell to the Oilers again in six games.
In 1992, the Kings would again face the Oilers, and again the Oilers beat them in six games. The Kings’ futility continued. Finally, the Kings broke through in 1993, upending the Calgary Flames in six, the Canucks in six, and the Maple Leafs in seven, en route to their first ever Stanley Cup final. There they met the Montreal Canadiens, who promptly dispatched them in five games to capture their 24th Stanley Cup in their storied history.
It appeared as though the Kings had finally figured out a recipe for playoff success. But mediocrity again settled in on the Kings, who failed to qualify for the playoffs from 1994-1997. They qualified for the playoffs in 1998, only to be swept by the St. Louis Blues in the first round. They failed to qualify again in 1999.
They returned to the playoffs in 2000, but their appearance was a brief one, as the Detroit Red Wings swept them aside in four straight. They qualified again in 2001, exacting revenge on the same Red Wings, taking them out in six. They then stretched the Colorado Avalanche to seven games before being eliminated.
They met the same Avalanche again in 2002, and met the same fate, being eliminated in seven games in the first round. They failed to qualify for postseason play for the next six seasons (2005 notwithstanding as the entire season was wiped out by a labor dispute).
They returned to the postseason in 2010, losing in six games to the Canucks. They fell to the San Jose Sharks in 2011 in six games, again failing to advance past the first round. Few expected 2012 to be different, as the Kings squeaked into the playoffs as the eighth seed.
We all know how this story ends. Long live the Kings, 2012 Stanley Cup champions!