LOS ANGELES - After two months of playoff domination, spearheaded by sensational goaltending, the Los Angeles Kings completed their improbable Stanley Cup run Monday night in a mere five minutes.
The pivotal moment came at 10:10 of a scoreless first period when the New Jersey Devils’ Steve Bernier smashed Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi into the end boards from behind, bloodying Scuderi’s face.
Bernier was ejected with a boarding major, and during the ensuing five-minute power play the Kings scored three goals – by Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis.
After goalie Jonathan Quick made one final pad save with 12 seconds to go and the clock ran down, the Kings piled into one another at the corner of the rink – a bearded, black-sweatered mass of joyous humanity.
The Kings had finally closed out the stubborn Devils in Game 6 with a 6-1 victory. Their sun-splashed fans inside jubilant Staples Center – both Beverly Hills bandwagon jumpers and longtime faithful followers – were delirious in celebrating the Kings’ first championship in their 45-year history.
Moments later Brown, the second U.S.-born captain to win the Cup (Dallas’ Derian Hatcher was the first, in 1999), lifted Lord Stanley’s cup over his head in triumph.
The Conn Smythe Trophy awarded to the most valuable player of the postseason went to Quick, who did not allow more than three goals in any of the 20 postseason games. His goals-against average was 1.40, and his save percentage was .946 – second only to Jacques Plante’s .949 in 1969 among regular goalies since the league expanded beyond two playoff rounds in 1967.
“We never lost our confidence,” Quick said. “We had to take it on the chin to keep moving, losing two, and we looked at it as, ‘Hey, we still have to win one game to win a championship. And we have two chances.’ Finally, we were able to do it at home.”
The Kings became the first eighth-seeded team to win the Cup. And, after losing 42 of 82 games in the regular season, they are only the third team with more defeats than victories to win the Stanley Cup in 119 years of competition, after the 1938 Chicago Blackhawks and the 1949 Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Kings roared into the finals, winning 12 of 14 and knocking off the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the first three rounds. Then they won the first three games against New Jersey to become the first NHL team ever to grab four 3-0 leads in the same playoff season.
“You never know. You get to the dance, you never know what’s going to happen,” Brown said. “We calmed down after losing two. It was the first time we had done that all playoffs, and we finally got off to a good start.”
Most observers were calling the Kings’ juggernaut springtime performance one of the most dominating of all time, and justly so.
But the Devils refused to give up. They salvaged their honor by winning Games 4 and 5, becoming the first team since 1945 to fall behind by 0-3 in the finals yet battle back to force a Game 6.
Finally on Monday the Kings righted themselves. Carter scored his second goal, and Adam Henrique got one for the Devils in a game marked by misconduct penalties and far more bad blood than flowed in any of the first five games of the series.
“You don’t give yourself a lot of room for error, finding yourselves in a pretty deep hole,” Devils captain Zach Parise said. “It’s hard, but we really felt like could get back in this and force a Game 7. We did give our best, but we just came up a bit short, unfortunately.”
The Devils had almost as remarkable a spring as the Kings. They trailed the Florida Panthers three games to two in the first round, but rallied to win Games 6 and 7 in overtime.
Next up, they beat their two biggest rivals – thrashing the Philadelphia Flyers and eliminating their cross-Hudson rivals, the No. 1-seeded New York Rangers.
The clutch performances burnished the already sterling reputation of 40-year-old goalie Martin Brodeur. But Monday’s hellish season finale may also have been the last game of his illustrious 20-year career.
Quick had plenty to say to Brodeur.
“I told him the game won’t be the same if he retires,” Quick said. “It was an honor just playing against him at this stage.”
Brodeur could only smile.
“He wanted to make sure I don’t retire,” he said. “I guess he likes beating me.”
Kings coach Darryl Sutter, the stone-faced Alberta farmer from a family of hockey-playing brothers who took over the team in December, smiled like a kid at his first chance to lift the Stanley Cup.The Associated Press contributed to this report.