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Sunday, June 9, 2013
Updated: June 10, 12:23 PM ET
Kings played like champions

By Arash Markazi
ESPNLosAngeles.com

Los Angeles doesn't do moral victories well.

It's a city that celebrates its champions with Downtown parades and Hollywood parties and ignores its losers with a cruel what-have-you-done-for-me-lately apathy.

The Los Angeles Kings are different.

Quick
The Kings' Jonathan Quick and Anze Kopitar can hold their heads high after their playoff run ended prematurely.

In a time when Los Angeles is currently filled with teams that are overhyped and overpriced as well as underperforming and underachieving, the Kings continue to stand above the rest. The Kings never shortchanged their fans, this city or themselves.

They fought until the end and continued swinging during the longest game in Kings history, until they could swing no longer. The Kings lost to the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in a seemingly never-ending double-overtime game and were eliminated in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals on Saturday night.

This would normally cause fans and talking heads in Los Angeles to call for players to be traded and coaches to be fired, but something interesting and certainly unique for this city happened during the Kings' last game of the season.

Los Angeles saw something it hadn't seen from one of its teams in a long time. It saw a team scrap. It saw a team claw. It saw a team fight. Quite simply, it saw a team play like a champion, with a heart to match.

Through seven innings of the Los Angeles Dodgers' 2-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday, an overflow crowd of fans gathered in front of TVs at the Stadium Club at Dodger Stadium to watch the Kings game. Fans who had paid to be a part of "Puigmania" took a break from the live action behind them to watch the Kings game on television. When it was over, the crowd broke out in a "Let's go Kings!' chant that no doubt would have serenaded the team if the game had been played at Staples Center.

Longtime Kings fans don't need to be reminded how magical these past two seasons have been. Before winning their first-ever Stanley Cup last season, the Kings had won only one playoff series in the previous 19 seasons and missed the playoffs altogether in 12 of those seasons.

Last season's magical ride from the eighth seed to Stanley Cup champions came so easily. The Kings beat the top three teams in the West en route to the Stanley Cup finals, became the first team to jump out to a 3-0 series lead in every series and won a league-record 10 straight road games. Looking back on last season before Saturday's game, Kings captain Dustin Brown realized how easy it was compared to defending the title.

"In retrospect, it was easy last year," Brown said. "When you're going through it, it's not, but when you look back on it, it is. We've had to grind games out here … Quite honestly, this is what I expected it to be when we won last year. I remember talking to guys who won a Cup, and they talk about how hard it is. Last year, we were playing at a level that few teams have ever played at, and, this year, we're finding it to be much more difficult."

Nothing came easy for the Kings this postseason. After going 10-1 on the road last postseason, they were just 1-8 on the road this postseason. They had to come back from a 2-0 series hole against the St. Louis Blues in the first round, beat the San Jose Sharks in seven games in the next round and simply could not get past the Presidents' Trophy winners in the conference finals.

As he looks back on the season and what the Kings have accomplished over the past two seasons, Kings coach Darryl Sutter didn't see any reason to hang his head after the game.

"We got beat in the conference finals by the best team in the conference at the end of the day," Sutter said. "We accomplished everything. Once you set the bar up there, then that's your bar. So obviously, we're disappointed to lose to Chicago, but we're certainly not disappointed in how we played. I mean, I think you look at our season, other than not getting home ice, we've done everything we've wanted."

The Kings will be in position to get home ice and once again compete for the Stanley Cup next season and for the next few, and they only have to look at the teams in this season's Stanley Cup finals to know that it's possible. The Blackhawks were eliminated in the first round two straight seasons after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, and the Boston Bruins lost in the first round after winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, and now both are back in the finals again.

This season's Kings team was almost identical to last season's team that won the Stanley Cup, and most of the team will likely be brought back, with Dustin Penner, Brad Richardson and Rob Scuderi being the only unrestricted free agents.

If the past two seasons have taught us anything about the Kings, it's that they are a resilient group that will bounce back from this season's disappointment just as they did when they fell behind 2-0 early to Chicago and were counted out down 3-2 with less than 10 seconds left in Game 5.

"We don't have to talk much about that stuff," Sutter said. "That's really a question that we get asked a lot, about resolve, all those things. Our team is highly successful because of that. There's not much you can do about giving up bad goals. If you put your head between your legs, you're going to get you're a-- kicked. We don't do that. We respond in the right way all the time."

It's a response that has been a breath of fresh air in Los Angeles the past two seasons and will likely continue to be for the foreseeable future.