Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Kings' Cup filled with perseverance
By Ramona Shelburne ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- It was sweeter this way, even if it wasn't as swift.
The Stanley Cup is heavy for a reason. And there's a reason the few who earn the privilege of lifting it above their heads at the end of a season always say almost the same thing:
"It's really heavy," Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar said after his turn with the Cup on Monday night. "Really heavy."
Most accounts peg it at around 35 pounds of silver and nickel. But, of course, no one has quite figured out a way to weigh all the history engraved into its chalice.
The Stanley Cup the Kings lifted for their patient, proud fans was carrying 45 years of history with it. Which is why, when it was all over, it felt a little like it was supposed to happen this way.
As Anze Kopitar found out, Lord Stanley's cup is much heavier than the 35 pounds of precious metals.
The early rounds had seemed too easy. The first three wins in the finals had come so fast.
It was all such a blur, such an incredible run that the cynics among us could've chalked it up to momentum or madness.
There would've been talk that the Kings had never been tested. Never been pushed to the brink and had to push back.
But because the Kings won the Cup now, in a Game 6 that felt like a must-win with the specter of another cross-country flight and hostile ice in the Prudential Center hanging over their heads, well, there will be nothing of the sort.
"It's the finals," Kopitar said with a mix of relief and reverence. "It's never going to be easy."
Kings coach Darryl Sutter had reminded everyone of that after the team had failed to close out the sweep the previous Monday at home.
"Close out a series in Game 4?" Sutter said, laughing. "It's the Stanley Cup finals."
The next day he took the point further.
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"Unfortunately, we have some spoiled people that think that everyone wins 16 in a row or something," he said. "It's a little confusing to me."
It's more than that, though.
The Cup itself is heavy and hard to win, but the first Cup for a franchise is the heaviest and hardest to win of all.
The first title in almost a century is similar. When the Boston Red Sox finally won a World Series after 86 years in 2004, they had to rally from a 3-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. It felt right that it was the Yankees. It felt even more right that it came after such a thrilling comeback.
History staggered the Kings a bit in Game 4. They were tight. They wanted it too badly, as though they could feel all those long-suffering fans reaching out, desperate to touch the Cup for the first time.
Instead of the Kings stepping into the moment, it swallowed them.
They played better in Game 5 but still couldn't win. Three shots hit the crossbar.
So close, but farther with each loss.
"You could feel the tension. It was palpable," Kings forward Dustin Penner said. "You never feel comfortable, even when you're up 3-0 or 3-1, even tonight going into the game. There were a bit of nerves there.
"But once the puck drops, your instincts take over. After the first [goal], you could just feel it."
No, you could flat-out hear it.
Ears are still ringing. In a dizzying 3 minutes, 58 seconds, the Kings let out a week's worth of nerves and frustration with three brilliant power-play goals. The sellout crowd and millions more fans around Los Angeles let out 45 years of perseverance.
The roar inside Staples Center was a mix of joy and relief.
"Not that we'd ever want to do this again with a three-game lead, but to finally win it here in front of all the fans who've been so patient for such a long time, it's unbelievable," Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said.
"Just the energy in the building. We all felt it."
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Scuderi was in the locker room when the first goal was scored, getting his nose and upper lip stitched up after he was slammed viciously into the boards by Devils forward Steve Bernier.
Scuderi was woozy. His head was thudding. It took several minutes to clean his blood from the ice. After the game, it was all still a bit hazy for him.
But when his young daughter jumped into his arms afterward and asked what happened, he had no doubt. "We won, honey," he said through a painful smile. "We won."
The celebration happened a week later than they all would've liked it to, but it was no less sweet.
The Stanley Cup is, indeed, heavy for a reason. The one Kings captain Dustin Brown lifted for the first time was even heavier.
"You guys can ask all the questions you want, you're going to get the same damn answer," Brown said. "I don't really have words to explain how I feel right now. To be the first King to touch the Cup is something I'll remember my whole life."
Brown is 27 years old. He was just a boy in 1993, the last time the Kings were this close. His seven years with the franchise are just a speck of the time that many of the fans inside Staples Center have spent riding the highs and lows with this team.
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But often it takes a group of young men, mostly unburdened by history, to finally change it.
"This is a young group of guys, and they had to find a way to do it," former King (and current radio broadcaster) Daryl Evans said. "It took them three tries, but to their credit, but they eventually find a way.
"I think you have to give the Kings a ton of credit."
Until Monday night, Evans had owned arguably the most memorable playoff moment in Kings history. He is, of course, the same Daryl Evans who shot home the winning goal in the "Miracle on Manchester" win over the Edmonton Oilers in 1982. It was a miracle for two reasons: 1) Much like this season's team, the Kings had sort of limped into the playoffs after making a midseason coaching change, while the Wayne Gretzky-led Oilers had basically smoked everyone and racked up 111 points, and 2) The Kings trailed 5-0 late in the second period before they rallied to score five goals in the third and win on Evans' overtime goal.
Although the video of Evans' wild celebration always will be held dear in L.A., he's happy to see it replaced by the celebration on home ice Monday night.
"That was a great game, a great individual moment. The series in itself was a great feat," Evans said. "But nothing surpasses what this is. This is what it's all about."