They may not have won the ESPY for ‘Best Team’ (that honour went to the NBA champion Miami Heat) but the Los Angeles Kings were well-represented. In addition to goaltender Jonathan Quick winning the ESPY for the ‘Best NHL Player’, the Los Angeles Kings won for ‘Best Upset’ thanks to their improbable Stanley Cup victory. While it’s gratifying to see the Kings win an honour for an award show created by the hockey-unfriendly ESPN, it should have came as no surprise that the silver-and-black won the ESPY.
With all due respect to the other three nominees, their respective upsets occurred in a single game while Los Angeles’ now-award-winning upset spanned two months. NCAA Basketball’s Lehigh and Norfolk State deserve a great deal of credit as the former upset juggernaut Duke during the season while the latter, as the #15 seed, eliminated #2 Missouri during March Madness. The other nominee was Iowa State’s football team dashing the National Championship hopes of Oklahoma State. All great accomplishments but, in the risk of sounding bias, they all pale in comparison to what fans and teams around the NHL alike witnessed this spring.
When the NHL playoffs started, there wasn’t much hope for the Kings according to the countless number of experts. In fact, there was no hope. Los Angeles just barely got into the playoffs as the eighth-seed as they would face the regular season’s best team: the Vancouver Canucks. When the series got under way, many began to reconsider their predictions.
The Kings knocked out the #1 seed, then the #2 seed in the St. Louis Blues. Just like that, the two favourites to meet in the West Final were gone – courtesy of one team. No team had ever eliminated the top two seeds in a conference before – that all changed this year. Then, to add to the carnage, the Kings eliminated the Phoenix Coyotes (the #3 seed) to reach their first Stanley Cup in 19 years. Then, finished off the New Jersey Devils in six games – and that was the end of that. The Los Angeles Kings became the first #8 seed ever to win a championship – in any sport, much less hockey.
Not even fans of ESPN could ignore a run of this magnitude. It would’ve been impressive enough had the Kings won each of their series in seven games, but they made such short work of their first three opponents and, despite sweating a little in the Final, they finished off the Devils with a vengeance.
I just can’t get sick of recapping the playoffs and can you blame me? The Los Angeles Kings went 16-4 in the playoffs... 16-4! While that’s not the greatest NHL playoff record, it’s up there, matching the 1988 Edmonton Oilers – you know, the team whose rosters included the likes of Messier, Anderson, Kurri, Fuhr and some guy named Gretzky. What a comparison!
While the ESPYs are more or less a popularity contest, winning ‘Best Upset’ is something worthwhile to use as a proverbial feather in the cap. They weren’t voted ‘Best Team’ but no matter. While I enjoy stories like the aforementioned Oilers of the 1980’s or the New York Yankees clubs of so many eras plowing through their competition like it’s a mundane occurance, I still take pleasure in a better story: the one about the tortoise and the hare. Like the tortoise, few took the Los Angeles Kings seriously. However, like the tortoise, those Kings had the last laugh. After all, as far as I’m concerned, the fewer who believe in you, the more fun, nay, more vindicating, it is to stand on the throne and be crowned champions.