Commentary: Kings win series for the ages
CHICAGO — Words failed them Sunday, but their faith in one another never wavered.
The Los Angeles Kings, capable of so much this spring, were unable to describe the exhilaration they felt after completing the most stunning in a series of remarkable comebacks, too dazed to sum up how they battled the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks through seven splendid games, until Alec Martinez’s overtime goal eluded Corey Crawford and sent Drew Doughty into a screaming, glass-banging frenzy and sent his teammates pouring off the bench in front of a deflated crowd at the United Center.
“It’s kind of hard to put everything into words right now,” center Anze Kopitar said after the 5-4 victory that launched the Kings to their second Stanley Cup Final appearance in three seasons.
“Deep down we definitely felt we could do this. Coming from behind the whole game, and being in a loud rink, obviously they were playing good. To make it happen I think shows the character we have in this room. And that really is priceless.”
This series defies description, really.
It took seven dramatic games played at a breathless pace and high skill level for the Kings to unseat the Blackhawks, who last season had unseated the Kings as champions.
There were countless examples of individual brilliance and as many displays of the grunt work of shot-blocking, penalty killing and the many little things that can make so big a difference when two teams are so closely matched.
“That was an amazing series. It really was,” Doughty said. “It’s even better that we won it, obviously. That was just a hard-fought, hard-fought battle. It felt like both teams played pretty honest.
“There wasn’t guys diving, there wasn’t guys cheating. It was just an honest series where there were battles in the corners. There were a lot of goals. Everything. There was everything in this series.”
For the Kings, it’s everything and a matchup against the New York Rangers beginning Wednesday at Staples Center.
“We’ve been saying it all along,” Doughty said. “That feeling we had when we won that first Cup was the best feeling of anyone’s lives.
“We just want to have that feeling again and we’re going to do whatever it takes.”
The Kings, the NHL’s top defensive team during the regular season, were forced into run-and-gun games by the Blackhawks more often than they wanted.
Yet, the Kings found a way to erase Chicago’s leads of 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 Sunday by tapping the same mental toughness they’ve relied on since they began this postseason journey by losing their first three games to San Jose.
Their grins said more than they could ever put into words Sunday, as they avoided elimination for the seventh time this spring and became the first NHL team ever to win three seven-game series to reach the Cup Final.
“You look back over the six, seven years this group has been together, we have a lot of things like that, that we’ve done and we were able to accomplish together,” said goaltender Jonathan Quick, who was far from his best in the first two periods but put up a forbidding front in stopping 18 shots in the third period and overtime.
“It’s a great group to be part of. I feel very fortunate to be with these guys. Obviously our journey’s not done yet, so we have a lot of work here coming up.
“New York’s an awesome team. They beat a few great teams to get here, so they’re battle-tested as well. We’ve got a lot to get ready for.”
The Rangers will have a lot to prepare for, too.
The Kings had to adjust to losing defensemen Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr to injuries but were able to plug in Jeff Schultz until Mitchell returned.
Coach Darryl Sutter scrambled his lines to have young wingers Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli flank veteran center Jeff Carter, a line that carried the team at times against Chicago.
Matt Greene and Martinez, who had struggled to contain the speedy Blackhawks and had their playing time reduced, were big factors on Sunday.
Most of all, the Kings persevered to win their third Game 7 on the road, after missing two chances to clinch — including one at home on Friday.
“We definitely don’t make it easier on ourselves, that’s for sure,” Kopitar said as he sat beneath a T-shirt that certified the Kings as West champions.
The tougher the fight, the more rewarding it is. Kopitar and his teammates couldn’t put that into words, but their resilience shouted it out to the world for them.