Kings, Devils ready to write history
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Oh, history will be made, all right.
To steal a marketing catch phrase once used by the NHL to sell the playoffs, a ho-hum 2012 Stanley Cup finals that threatened to end with a whimper is now chock full of drama, not to mention multiple cross-country flights.
Oh, history will be made, all right.
When the Los Angeles Kings were up 3-0 in this series, theirs was the history that was up for debate.
On the verge of winning their first Stanley Cup championship since entering the league in 1967-68, it was time to reflect on the franchise's voyage.
We talked to Luc Robitaille, the Hall of Fame King who remains a top executive with the club and is an enduring link to the team's past.
Wayne Gretzky, the man who breathed life into the franchise when he was acquired by then owner Bruce McNall and led the team to its only other Stanley Cup finals appearance in 1993, dropped the puck to start Game 3 at Staples Center.
The team's mostly lean history was juxtaposed nicely against the phenomenal play of the Kings this spring. Operating out of the eighth seed, they at one point ran their record to 15-2.
Our colleague Pierre LeBrun penned a fine piece in advance of Game 4, talking to some of the game's greatest leaders and builders, including Mark Messier and Scotty Bowman, to try to put this current Kings team in perspective in the event they could put away the Devils.
Had they gone 16-2, they would have matched the mighty Edmonton Oilers of 1988 in terms of a dominant one-season playoff run.
Seems like a long time ago that these were the talking points, no?
That piece, as fine as it is, has been pushed to the dusty part of LeBrun's computer. In the wake of New Jersey's 2-1 victory in Game 5, the Devils have at least temporarily hijacked the history storyline of this finals series.
So, who now owns the history of this series?
The Devils are the first team since 1945 to have gone down 3-0 in the finals to force a Game 6. Only one team, the 1941-42 Toronto Maple Leafs, have ever pulled off the complete comeback in the finals.
So the Kings, twice denied their first Stanley Cup celebration, must now find a way to reassert themselves and their pursuit of history.
"I don't think we're discouraged," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We knew it was going to be a long series before the series started. I don't think we ever expected to be up 3-0."
The Kings' top defenseman acknowledged they might have taken their collective eyes off the prize the last time they were at home in Game 4 with a chance to hoist the Cup on home ice.
"Yeah, we don't want any distractions. I think a lot of us before Game 4 were distracted with family members and friends coming in and with the Cup in the building. A lot of those things we just have to put aside," he said.
"All of us in the room were kind of frustrated that we were thinking about things ahead of time. [Coach Darryl Sutter] made sure that wasn't going to happen this time. We'll be well-prepared for Game 6."
The Kings were the better team in many ways in Game 5, enjoying more quality scoring chances. Justin Williams was the best forward on the ice for either team.
Still, a rare mistake by Kings netminder Jonathan Quick allowed the Devils to score the all-important first goal -- the team scoring first has won all five games in this finals series -- and Bryce Salvador banged home a point shot off L.A. defenseman Slava Voynov, and that was enough to create a Game 6 on Monday night at Staples Center.
The loss marked the first road loss of the spring for the Kings, who are now 10-1 away from the Staples Center, and another loss on Monday would see them facing down an entirely different kind of history.
"I don't think we feel any pressure, not at all," Sutter insisted Sunday afternoon at the team's suburban Los Angeles practice facility. "Let's not forget New Jersey's the home team. New Jersey's the team that had a hundred and some points. We expected all along a hard series out of the New Jersey Devils and that's what we're getting."
The coach grumbled about all the discussion about the Kings' inability to close out the Devils thus far and whether that's somehow a commentary on the Kings' character, as though his team was somehow supposed to win every series in four straight.
"I have a hard time figuring that out," he said.
History will be made, the slogan went.
Oh, yes, you'd better believe it. One way or another.