The underdog Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, their first in franchise history.
The 2012 Kings were an eighth seed that opened every series on the road but did not face any true adversity until the New Jersey Devils won Game 5 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final when they lost a second game in a series for the first time all spring. The 2014 version of the Kings, while better during the regular season with five more points than their 2012 counterpart, faced adversity right from the outset. They saw themselves in a 3-0 series hole, the same hole they put every single team they faced during the 2012 Stanley Cup run, to the San Jose Sharks before they had a chance to blink.
The 2012 team had no expectations to win at the start of the spring. The 2014 version, while not exactly favored in any series, are far from an underdog story. Yet, despite the differences, the Kings are four wins away from their second Stanley Cup championship in three springs and once again have to eliminate a New York City area team in the New York Rangers to lift the Stanley Cup.
2012: Steamrolling Through Adversity
Jumping out to a 3-0 lead in every series during their 2012 run, the Kings never faced any in-series adversity until the Final. After the Devils defeated the Kings 2-1 at the Prudential Center in Game 5, the Kings were forced to play a series beyond five games for the first time. The pressure didn’t last long. A little over ten minutes into the first period of Game 6, the Kings received a five-minute power play after Devils forward Steve Bernier received a boarding major for his check on defenseman Rob Scuderi. Three power play goals later, the Kings were well on their way to finishing their magical Cinderella run as they took the deciding game 6-1.
2014: Overcoming Adversity
Fast forward to 2014, the Sharks took to the ice at Staples Center with a chance to knock out Los Angeles in Game 4. Then the Kings let the hockey world know that despite a massive setback they would not give up their crowns. As Game 4 morphed into the waning seconds of Game 7, midnight struck on the Sharks as they managed to collapse in a way that only three other NHL teams have fallen victim. The Kings responded to the toughest test they have ever faced with four straight wins. In fact, the 2014 Kings have been behind in every series so far this postseason and became the first team in NHL history to win three Game 7s on the road after they eliminated the defending champions 5-4 in overtime in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. 2012 was about an underdog making history with little adversity. 2014 has been about a powerful team that continues to overcome adversity to make history.
Watch the final 2:35 of Game 7 at San Jose as the LA Kings complete a historic comeback:
2012: Knocking Down Every Western Conference Division Winner
The 2012 Kings opened their playoff run by facing the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks. After a pair of 4-2 victories on the road, the Kings split at home before taking Game 5 in Vancouver. In the second round the Kings swept the Central Division winning St. Louis Blues in dominating fashion. Los Angeles did not allow more than two goals in any game and won each game by at least a pair of goals. In their final test before the Final, the Kings eliminated the third and final division winner, the Pacific Division winning Phoenix Coyotes in five games.
2014: A California-Size Comeback, A Rival, and Defeating the Defending Champions
This spring, the Kings also faced the best team in the Western Conference during the regular season, their rivals from across town, the Anaheim Ducks. After their monumental comeback against the Sharks, the Kings and Ducks met in the second round to decide the winner of the Pacific Division in the first-ever Stanley Cup Playoffs match-up between the two rivals. The Kings borrowed some of their 2012 road magic, when the Kings went 10-1 away from home, and took both opening games in Anaheim. The Ducks responded with three straight wins and the Kings were once again on the brink of elimination. A 2-1 win in Game 6 on home ice and a 6-2 win back at the Honda Center sent the Kings to their third consecutive Western Conference Final where they would face the defending champions and the team that halted the Kings from defending their own title in 2013, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Chicago eliminated Los Angeles during the 2013 Western Conference Final in five games and opened their 2014 series with 3-1 victory at the United Center. The Blackhawks looked poised to go up 2-0 in the series when they led the Kings by a score of 2-0 with less than two minutes to go in the second period of Game 2. Justin Williams scored his sixth goal of the postseason for Los Angeles to cut the deficit in half late in the period and the Kings, behind Jeff Carter’s hat trick in the third period, stormed back to win 6-2 behind five third period goals. The surge didn’t stop across the country. The Kings won a close battle 4-3 in Game 3 but won decisively in Game 4 5-2 and were one win away from another Final appearance. After a double-overtime setback in Game 5 and a tough home-ice loss in Game 6, the Kings finally moved on to the Final with an overtime victory of their own in Game 7 at the United Center.
Old Faces, New Additions, Same Results
Many of the players that wore “LA” on their chests during the 2012 Stanley Cup run are still around. Anze Kopitar, who scored the Game 1 overtime winner in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, still leads the Kings in points. He was tied with captain Dustin Brown for the lead in 2012 with 20 points and leads the team this spring with 24. Drew Doughty put up 16 points two postseasons ago and has matched that total thus far in 2014 to lead the Kings among defensemen. Ex-Philadelphia Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are still heavily involved in the offense as well. Carter had 8 goals and 13 points in 2012 but has exploded this postseason. He has already surpassed his goal output of two years ago with 9 so far but has really boosted his assists total with 13 so far this spring. Richards notched 15 points in 2012 but has dipped in 2014 with just 8 points. Justin Williams put up 15 points in 2012 and has 18, including a goal in Game 7 against the Blackhawks, so far during the 2014 postseason.
One key difference is Dustin Penner, who scored 11 points in 20 games in 2012, is gone while Marian Gaborik, a member of the New York Rangers in 2012, has put up 12 goals and 19 points so far for the Kings this spring. Gaborik tied Game 1 against the Ducks in the final moments of regulation, scored the overtime winner, and opened the scoring in Game 2 for a natural hat trick that will never actually count as one. Rookie Tanner Pearson, who made his NHL debut in Game 3 of the 2013 Western Conference Semifinals against the Sharks, has been a huge standout for the Kings this postseason. In 25 games during the 2013-14 season, Pearson put up three goals and eight assists. He finished with a plus/minus of +2. In the playoffs, he has surpassed his regular season output with 12 points and a +9 +/-. Another key contributor has been defenseman Jake Muzzin. He made his debut in the NHL with the Kings during the 2010-11 season when he suited up for 11 games. He did not appear at all in the NHL the following season or during the playoffs but returned to the lineup for good during the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season when he played in 45 of the 48 games. He has played in all 21 games during the 2014 postseason and he has scored 5 goals and added 6 assists. He is a +3.
In net is the 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick. Two years ago, Quick led the league with a 1.41 GAA and a .946 save percentage. He had nearly as many shutout victories as he did losses. He shut out the opponent three times, including a Game 3 shutout on home ice against the Devils in the Final, and lost just four times. From Game 4 of their opening round series in 2014 against the Sharks until Game 4 against the Blackhawks, Quick channeled his inner 2012 with a 2.08 GAA and a .926 save percentage. Entering the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, Quick is not as dominant overall as he was two postseasons ago and has a 2.86 GAA with a .906 save percentage this playoff year. Quick played every second during the run to the Stanley Cup but Martin Jones has replaced Quick on two occasions this spring, including once during the opening three losses this postseason.
Dustin Brown and the Los Angeles Kings are awarded the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl as the 2014 Western Conference Champions:
One Team’s Weak Spot is Another Team’s Strength
The Kings, as a team, are winning face-offs at a 52.9% rate, only behind the eliminated Boston Bruins. In 2012 the Kings were a middle of the pack team in the face-off circle when they were successful 49.7% of the time. Their special teams have also reversed. In 2012 they had a mediocre power play when they had a 12.8% success rate but this season they are fifth in the league with a 25.4% success rate. Their penalty kill has dipped this season with an 81.2% PK percentage. Two postseasons ago, they had a PK% of 92.1, tied with the St. Louis Blues for the best in the NHL. When scoring first in 2012, the Kings went 11-1. This postseason, Los Angeles is 8-2. A major difference is the Kings are 4-7 when surrendering the first goal this postseason but went 5-3 during their 2012 run to the Cup. One constant is the 2012 and 2014 Kings had not lost a game in which they entered the third period with a lead winning a combined 17 games during the two postseasons until the Kings surrendered their one goal lead entering the final frame in Game 5 against the Blackhawks and fell in double-overtime.
With Cinderella Fairytale Finished,
New Hollywood Story Being Scripted by the Los Angeles Kings
The Kings, led by General Manager Dean Lombardi and head coach Darryl Sutter built a team that entered the 2012 postseason with nothing to lose and, except for four games when the Kings had already built 3-0 leads in every series, didn’t lose. After their Stanley Cup banner was raised to the rafters of the Staples Center to open the 2012-13 season, however, Los Angeles is no longer a Cinderella story out of Hollywood but instead a favored team expected to go deep into the postseason. They fell just short last year against the eventual champions but this spring, the Kings have channelled their inner 2012 championship glory although they are doing so in a much different way. The 2012 Kings wrote a story that will never be replicated when they rose from the depths of the eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference to defeat three division winners and an upstart but successful Devils squad. The 2014 Kings have faced much more adversity despite being a higher seed and, like their 2012 counterpart, are within striking distance of the game’s ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup.
Leo is in his second year with THW. He covers the 3-Time Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils and the Albany Devils of the American Hockey League. You can follow Leo on Twitter, @LeoScaglioneJr.