With the Stanley Cup securely in the hands of the Los Angeles Kings, now’s a good time to look back at the defining moments of last season, an eight-month journey that figures to be remembered for decades to come. In chronological order:
1. Home opener -- After starting the regular season with two games in Europe and two more on the East Coast, the Kings finally had a chance to play in front of their home crowd. Featuring a lineup that many believed could contend for a Pacific Division title, L.A. played just as well as advertised, cruising to a 5-0 victory against the St. Louis Blues. Kings left wing Simon Gagne, one of five players who joined L.A. in the offseason, had two goals and an assist in the victory.
2. Quick’s shutout streak -- The home opener against the Blues marked the beginning of a franchise-record three consecutive shutouts by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. After the St. Louis game, he followed up by blanking the Phoenix Coyotes (2-0) and Dallas Stars (1-0). In one of the more questionable moves of coach Terry Murray’s tenure, he decided to rest Quick for a game following the Dallas win and that seemed to take him out of his groove. He went winless in six of his next seven starts, giving up 21 goals in that span.
3. Murray fired/Sutter hired -- The above-mentioned skid was the first indication the Kings were more than capable of underachieving. After another four-game losing spell in early December, general manager Dean Lombardi made the difficult decision to fire Murray, a man who implemented his defense-first identity but was unable to get the players to feel accountable for their poor play. Lombardi placed a call to Darryl Sutter at his barn in Alberta and asked if he was interested in the reclamation project. The rest, as they say, is history.
4. King/Nolan recall -- Sutter didn’t press all the right buttons immediately. In fact, the Kings weren’t able to win more than two straight games his first two months behind the bench. In an effort to bring more youth and size to the wings, the Kings brought up rookies Dwight King and Jordan Nolan from their AHL team in Manchester in early February, and they fit into the lineup like a new pair of boxing gloves. In their second game with the Kings, they each scored in a 4-2 victory against the Stars. King moved from the second to the third line late in the opening-round series against the Vancouver Canucks and went on to contribute five goals and three assists in the final 13 playoff games.
5. Carter trade -- After winning just three of the first 11 games in February, eliminating their wiggle room inside the top eight in the Western Conference, management went for broke Feb. 23 and traded defenseman Jack Johnson to the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets for high-scoring right wing Jeff Carter. The move rounded out the top six forwards for the Kings and didn’t force them to subtract from their back end, as rookie Slava Voynov was ready to assume a full-time role in the NHL. Carter started slow with L.A. but caught fire in the second half of their playoff run, scoring seven goals in the final 10 games.
6. Detroit loss -- No setback this season stung more than the March 9 loss against the Red Wings in Detroit. Already hurting from a 3-1 defeat against the Jack Johnson-led Blue Jackets the night before, the Kings blew a one-goal lead with four minutes remaining against the Red Wings, who were missing seven starters because of to injuries. The Kings took a long look in the mirror after that one, then responded by going 9-2-1 over their next 12 games.
7. Six-game winning streak -- Heading into mid-March, the Kings hadn’t won more than four games in a row all season, giving thought to the possibility that they still had a hot streak hidden somewhere inside. They showed that was the case March 11-22, winning a season-high six consecutive games against a list of opponents that included the playoff-bound Red Wings, Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks and Blues. The winning streak enabled the Kings to go 3-2-3 over the final two weeks of the regular season and still get into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the West.
8. Clowe’s bench play -- In the most bizarre move of the NHL season, Sharks forward Ryane Clowe leaned over from the bench in the second-to-last game of the regular season and deflected the puck away from an onrushing L.A. forward while the Kings were on a power play late in the third period with the score tied. Just as astonishing, none of the linesmen or referees saw the brazen move and the Sharks went on to win in a shootout, keeping their playoff hopes alive and putting a major dent in L.A.’s chances of winning the Pacific Division. The Kings had clinched a playoff spot just before the game, which is probably why they were so even-tempered following the loss.
9. Stoll’s OT winner -- The playoffs got off to sizzling start for the Kings, as they won their first three games against the top-seeded Canucks. They failed to complete the sweep in Game 4, however, forcing them to travel north for Game 5. With the score tied after regulation, the game ventured into overtime. A win by the Canucks and they would surely have momentum on their side. Just past the four-minute mark of sudden death, Trevor Lewis forced a turnover in the neutral zone and Jarret Stoll found himself on a 2-on-1 heading the other way. He cocked and fired a wrist shot that rippled the back of the net, giving the Kings their first series victory in 11 years and paving the way for their Stanley Cup run.
10. Five-minute power play -- The Kings were facing their first real adversity of the playoffs, losing two straight games to the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup finals to cut their once 3-0 series lead to 3-2. In a scoreless game midway through the first period, New Jersey forward Steve Bernier was assessed a major boarding penalty on Rob Scuderi and ejected. With five minutes to score as many goals as they could, the Kings pretty much did. They scored three times to take a lead that was never threatened in the 6-1 victory, which clinched their first Cup in franchise history.