The world’s most famous arena was no match for the world’s best hockey team Monday, the Kings savaging and silencing Madison Square Garden with three powerful thwacks that cut off the New York Rangers at the heart.
Now they are on the verge of doing the same to Los Angeles sports history.
If the Kings turn this three-games-to-none lead against the Rangers into a Stanley Cup championship — a 3-0 victory Monday moved them mere minutes from the Cup — it will complete the best postseason ever by a Southland sports team.
That’s right. The best postseason. Ever. This is true even in a town dominated by Lakers magic and Dodgers miracles. This is true even with USC’s bowl bashes, UCLA basketball’s breathless madness, and that one autumn in Anaheim when all halo broke loose.
What the Kings have accomplished over the last two months hasn’t created one memorable moment like those of Kirk Gibson, Robert Horry, and Tyus Edney. It’s been a dozen moments. It hasn’t been one eternal memory, it’s been an eternity of memories, each one more implausible, each one marinating for only mere seconds before the next one, with only one victory required for the most incredible 16-win stretch this town has ever experienced.
“I don’t think you’d ever expect …" said Dustin Brown late Monday, shaking his head, and that says it all.
All around him in the cramped Garden dressing room were sweat-soaked, working-class players who finished the regular season as only the 10th-ranked team in the league. The postseason started on the road in San Jose on April 17. Few were watching. The Kings weren’t even the most highly regarded team in their own town.
“The way we play is not exciting, it’s borderline boring,” said Anze Kopitar with a grin. “But it works in the playoffs.”
Has it ever. I’ve been lucky enough to witness most of this city’s postseason sports greatness in the modern era of multiple playoff series and I’ve never seen anything like this.
So the Dodgers overcame the mighty New York Mets and unbeatable Oakland Athletics in 1988? These Kings won their first two series against higher-finishing teams after overcoming three-games-to-none and three-games-to-two deficits. Heck, their historic four straight wins to overcome San Jose would be enough for a memorable postseason, and that was just the first round.
“Everybody in this room, no matter what happened in the regular season we all knew that the playoffs was our chance to shine,” said Drew Doughty.
So the Lakers went 15-1 in the 2001 postseason? The Kings have become the first team in NHL history to win three Games 7s on the road, and are on the verge of completing the first Final sweep in 16 years.
“It’s a grind, it’s a very hard thing to do,” said Brown. “But we’re built for this. We’re never the best team in the regular season, but we’re built for the playoffs.”
The flash has been blinding. I’ve seen absurd comebacks by all sort of Los Angeles teams, but the Kings have won seven — seven — elimination games.
So the Lakers overcome a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Portland in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals, and then overcome a three-games-to-two deficit to beat Sacramento in the 2002 conference finals? The Kings pretty much did all of that in a week, overcoming a two-goal deficit in Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks for the Western Conference title and then doing it twice in the first two games of the Final.
“The thing about this time of year is, everybody is doing it for us,” said Doughty. “The guys who score a lot of points aren’t scoring a lot of points, it’s everybody else stepping up to the plate, all of us.”
It was Edney’s drive against Missouri that saved UCLA’s national basketball championship in 1995, right? It was Scott Spiezio’s home run that rescued the Angels’ World Series championship team in 2002, correct? This is far different because there is not one savior here, even Monday’s shutout-pitching Jonathan Quick has sometimes struggled. In fact, the 11 goals scored in the Final have been scored by 11 different Kings. Some of the names, you may even recognize.
Kyle Clifford, Drew Doughty, Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, Willie Mitchell, Dwight King, Marian Gaborik, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Jake Muzzin, Mike Richards.
“I’ve been on some close teams, but this is probably the tightest knit group that I’ve been a part of,” said Richards, who scored Monday, the first time he’s put a puck in the back of the net in three weeks.
Never has a Los Angeles sports team been beaten so badly and yet triumphed so magically. They were finished in San Jose. They were done against their rival Ducks. And who didn’t think that they were done after the Blackhawks had taken leads not once, not twice, but three times in Game 7 in Chicago?
“I mean, hell, we got thrown under the bus by everybody on earth seven weeks ago,” said Coach Darryl Sutter.
For the taciturn farmer from Alberta, that sentence was a speech. But like the rest of his team, there is a method to his oddness. Just as his face never changes, neither does his team’s spirit. Behind the sparse words — his awkward postgame news conferences are now officially the stuff of legend — is a lifetime of perspective.
He’ll tell you, if you listen close enough, that he views the regular season as mere calisthenics for the postseason. He would skip the entire regular season if allowed. The Stanley Cup playoffs are why he coaches.
“We all know what it’s about around here,” said Kopitar. “This is the time for Kings hockey.”
Improbable, impossible hockey.