LOS ANGELES — Those tears. Once they started they just wouldn’t stop.
To understand how deep the emotional well of this special Los Angeles Kings team was, you only needed to look at the puffy red eyes of Justin Williams on Friday night. This was the third time he lifted the Stanley Cup. This should have been old hat.
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Yet there Williams was more than an hour after Alec Martinez had fired a double overtime dagger through the heart of the New York Rangers crying like a baby.
“I’m speechless,” he said.
The water works had first started when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called him forward to accept the Conn Smythe Trophy and Williams saw his Kings teammates applauding as they stood across the blueline. Then he had the chance to grab the Stanley Cup again and embrace his children, Jaxon and Jade, and eventually make his way to the podium to address the media.
Once he arrived, he was still wearing his skates. He was still blinking through teary eyes as well.
“Getting that trophy will never sink in for me,” WIlliams said of the Conn Smythe, given to the playoff MVP. “But what we went through for the Stanley Cup this year is really the story.”
There may never be another team that wins like this again.
Back on April 22 the Kings were down 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks in the first round and facing the very real possibility of an early summer. Now we will speak about them as a modern day dynasty — one of the small “d” variety for now, at least until the later chapters are written.
They won three consecutive Game 7′s and then three overtime games in the Stanley Cup final. This will officially go down as a five-game win over the Rangers, but that doesn’t quite describe how tight this was. For starters, the Kings and Rangers actually spent a total of six games on the ice.
“This team, you’ve got to give them lots of credit,” said Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter. “Tonight is their 26th game. You talk about 26 games plus how many overtimes? We probably played close to 30 games.”
The Kings marched to the 2012 Stanley Cup by playing 20 games and barely had to break a sweat in the process. Playing in the NHL’s much superior Western Conference under a new playoff format that guarantees tougher early opponents, this was a muderer’s row of opponents.
There was the comeback against the Sharks followed by a tight win over Anaheim. The reward? A date with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team they are now battling for the title of “best” in this generation.
Sutter spent the entire Olympic break in February pondering how to beat Chicago.
There’s an argument to be made that all three teams Los Angeles eliminated on the way to the Stanley Cup might have beaten the Rangers. And still, the final wasn’t easy. The Kings had to come from behind in three games, including Friday’s clincher.
They were trailing 2-1 entering the third period and facing the very real possibility of another six-hour flight across the continent. Even after Marian Gaborik slid the puck under Henrik Lundqvist to force overtime, the Kings played with fire.
A book could be written about the 34:43 of extra time before Martinez finally stopped the clock and ended the season. It was so tight, so close, so tense. A post for New York’s Ryan McDonagh followed by a crossbar by the Kings’ Tyler Toffoli.
Open looks, dangerous rushes, a tip from Mats Zuccarello off the post, a Chris Kreider breakaway … it was Friday the 13th and you had to wonder if the game would ever end.
Then, quite harmlessly, Toffoli fired a low shot off Henrik Lundqvist’s pad and the puck ended up right on the stick of Martinez. The defenceman had the entire Pacific Ocean to fire it into and found a spot under the paddle of Lundqvist’s stick.
The King laid crumpled in his crease only five or 10 feet from where the Kings celebrated.
“I was just at the right place at the right time,” said Martinez. “(Toffoli) made a great play shooting far pad, and I was able to put it in. It’s not about me or the goal. It’s about the L.A. Kings and the guys in that room. We did something special.
“We knew we were a good team; now we know we’re a great team.”
The emphasis here really has to be on team.
That is something all 30 groups of players that start each NHL season aim to become, but very few truly achieve. The way these playoffs unfolded in Los Angeles left no doubt about which one was most successful. We, before me.
“We have a team that just simply wasn’t going to be denied — end of story,” said Williams. “What we went through this year makes it so much more special. Each Cup is unique, but God we earned this one.”
“I’m emotionally spent like I’ve never been before,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown.
“We were down, we scratched and clawed, and here we are,” added veteran defenceman Willie Mitchell. “It’s pretty damn cool.”
The biggest testament of all came when it was time to try and select a Conn Smythe winner out of this group. There was both no way to get it wrong and no way to get it right.
You had Doughty, the marvellous defenceman who played more minutes than anyone else this spring and added a second Stanley Cup to his two Olympic gold medals. Anze Kopitar outpaced three of the world’s best centres — Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews — and led the league with 26 points. Jeff Carter was a beast while Gaborik, the trade deadline pickup, had 14 goals.
And then there was Williams, who was in the middle of everything. He registered points in 15 of the team’s 16 playoff victories, delivered big performances in all three Game 7 wins, scored the overtime winner in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final and opened the scoring on Friday night.
An above average player for a number of years, Williams finally found the spotlight in an unexpected way this spring.
“It’s fitting,” said Sutter. “His third Stanley Cup, it’s great for Willie. You could see how emotional he was about it.
“But we had 29 players; you could put 29 players on it.”
Eventually, they will all have their names carved into the trophy that matters most. Again.