The Los Angeles Kings are a longstanding franchise that has experienced all the highs and lows that NHL hockey brings. They were able to win two Stanley Cups not long ago, but before that, the team was never able to get over the hump and experienced many heartbreaking moments. Kings fans won’t have to worry about not being competitive in the future, though, with a promising team coming together, but let’s look back on the worst moments in Kings’ history.
2013 Conference Final vs Blackhawks
The 2012-13 season saw the Kings enter as defending Cup champions for the first time in their history. In the lockout-shortened season, the Kings remained competitive, posting a 27-16-5 record, good enough for second in the Pacific Division. In the first round of the playoffs, the Kings faced the St. Louis Blues. Despite falling behind 2-0, the Kings won four straight games to advance to the second round, meeting their bitter rivals, the San Jose Sharks. That series was back and forth, with both teams winning all of their home games.
The Kings had home ice for Game 7, and the trend continued with them coming out on top of the Sharks. For the first time ever, the Kings advanced to the Conference Final in consecutive years, but it was here they met their match in the Chicago Blackhawks. Despite the shortened calendar, the Hawks had a season for the ages in 2012-13, finishing 36-7-5 with an astounding 24-game streak without losing in regulation to open the year.
While the Kings were never blown away by the Hawks, Chicago proved to be too much for the defending champions. The Kings lost in five games, and fans missed out on a chance to see back-to-back Cups in the City of Angels.
However, the Kings got their revenge one year later by defeating the Blackhawks in the same round on their way to another championship.
The Kings had high hopes for the 1995-96 season. They hadn’t made the playoffs in the previous two seasons, but the team had a new head coach in Larry Robinson, and still had Wayne Gretzky. They won their opening game against the new Colorado Avalanche, where Gretzky said after the game “We’re going to have a fun year.” (from Opening Victory for Kings : Hockey: Prospective new owners watch their $113-million investment beat Colorado, 4-2, in front of 16,005. LA Times, 10/08/1995).
By the halfway point of the season, the team began to implode. Gretzky was still putting up big numbers, but did not want to be a part of a rebuild. On Feb. 27, 1996, Gretzky was traded to the St. Louis Blues in a deal that didn’t work out great for both sides. It was a sad time for LA fans as this trade marked the end of the most exciting era in Kings hockey to that point, and marked the beginning of a long period of mediocrity for the club.
6 Years of No Playoffs
After the Gretzky trade, the Kings didn’t completely fall into despair. They made the playoffs in four out of five years, although they won only a 2000-01 first-round matchup with the Detroit Red Wings. Beginning in the 2002-03 season, the Kings entered the longest postseason drought in franchise history, going six years without qualifying.
The worst season of the drought came in 2006-07, when the Kings finished with an abysmal 27-41-14 record. Also noteworthy is that Kings legend Luc Robitaille played his final games with LA during this drought.
Kings fans didn’t have much to look forward to during this time, but it set the stage for their return to contender status in the early 2000s.
Opening Round Loss to Vegas
The 2017-18 season saw the Kings try to regain the form they showed in their Stanley Cup runs. They finished with a record 45-29-8 and made the playoffs after missing the year prior. In the first round, the team was set to face the Vegas Golden Knights, who shocked the hockey world by looking dominant and making the playoffs in their first season. For the first playoff games ever held in the state of Nevada, the Kings fought hard but lost two close, low-scoring affairs and headed back to LA.
In the Staples Center, it proved to be more of the same as they lost two more close games to be swept by a team making their first playoff appearance ever. Besides the historic element of Vegas winning their first playoff series, the record was also set for fewest goals scored in a best-of-seven playoff series.
For Kings fans, this series was the beginning of the end for their Cup-winning core of 2012 and 2014. The best era in team history was ended by an expansion team. The Kings have not made the playoffs since this series, and despite boasting up-and-coming talent, we don’t know when that will change.
1993 Stanley Cup Final
For the longest time, the 1992-93 season proved to be the most noteworthy in Kings’ history despite the ending. It was the culmination of their efforts to bring a championship to LA that started in 1988 when the team famously traded for the Great One. Gretzky’s arrival made the team instantly competitive, however the Kings still had a tough time beating the powerhouse Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers come playoff time.
The 1992-93 season saw the Kings finish third in the Smythe Division, and for the first time since Gretzky joined the team, a substantial playoff run was to take place. In the first round, the Kings defeated Calgary in six games. The second round saw them dispatch the division champion Vancouver Canucks in the same number of games, advancing to the Conference Final for the first time in franchise history.
The Kings played the Toronto Maple Leafs in one of the most heated and controversial playoff series in NHL history. Gretzky’s uncalled high stick of Leafs forward Doug Gilmour in Game 6 is still a contentious topic in Toronto. The Kings won the series in seven games to advance to the Cup Final for the first time ever.
Staying in Canada, the Kings faced the Montreal Canadiens. Led by Patrick Roy, the Canadiens were a formidable foe. The Kings proved they were ready for the challenge in Game 1, by winning 4-1 and stunning the Montreal crowd. Game 2 proved to be much closer. The Kings had momentum until Kings defenseman Marty McSorley was caught using an illegal stick, giving the Canadiens the opportunity to tie the game and win in overtime.
The Kings never recovered, and lost the remaining three games and the series with it. For any Kings fans at that time, the team was so close to securing a championship for the first time only to have it slip away. While the team has reached the top of the mountain twice since then, this was the only lengthy playoff run in team history for a long time, and it was a run that ended in heartbreak.
Covering the Los Angeles Kings for The Hockey Writers. 22 years old from Calgary, Alberta. Currently in my final year of study in the Journalism program at Mount Royal University. I have previously covered the WHL, AJHL, and U Sports.