In the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings were on the verge of getting swept by the San Jose Sharks. Just two seasons removed from winning the Cup, it looked like the Kings were about to crash and burn.
But five weeks later, the Kings find themselves four games away from another Stanley Cup. Last night, LA defeated defending champs the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime, 5-4, in a thrilling Game 7 to earn a trip to the Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers.
"We've battled back so many times this year and so many times in these playoffs, we said, 'Why not again today?'" Kings winger Justin Williams said. "It was a total team effort, every single guy here giving everything they've got."
LA has won each series this postseason in seven games, becoming the first time in NHL history to play 21 playoff games and reach the Finals. To accomplish something like that, every guy in the Kings locker room has had to go hard all playoffs long.
Last night it was Alec Martinez, whose goal at 5:47 of OT sent the Kings to the Finals. But LA has had great offense all postseason. Anze Kopitar leads all scorers with 24 points. Marian Gaborik leads the league with 12 playoff goals. And Jeff Carter is second in both categories with 9 goals and 22 points.
“It’s a good core, I think," Kopitar said. "Some character guys that are lightening up the room, obviously. It’s a great mix of everything, of veteran presence, leadership, young bucks stepping up. You name it, we got it in here.”
That includes a goalie who has rediscovered his mojo at just the right moment.
After a mostly mediocre season, derailed by injuries and playing in the Olympics, and a really bad start against the Sharks, Jonathan Quick has established himself as one of the most reliable goalies this postseason. After giving up 17 goals in the first three games of the playoffs, he rebounded to allow 43 goals over the next 18 games, including one shutout (agains the Sharks). Quick hasn't always been great, but he's come through when the Kings needed it most. That includes making 37 saves last night.
The only goalie who has been more clutch this postseason? The Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist.
"New York's an awesome team," Quick said last night. "They beat great teams, so they're battle-tested as well so we've got a lot to get ready for."
LA's offense versus New York's goaltending is the stuff great Finals are made of. And fortunately we don't have to wait long for it to start. Game 1 is Wednesday in Los Angeles.
What team do you think will win the 2014 Stanley Cup? Let us know in the comments section below!
Photo: Justin Heiman/Getty Images