As much credit as Alec Martinez deserves for his Stanley Cup-winning goal, it wouldn't have been possible had it not been for another Los Angeles King. It may be cliche to suggest that winning championships require a team effort, but there is a reason why it is a cliche: because it's true.
When Dean Lombardi was hired the Kings' general manager in 2006, he implemented a rebuilding plan with most of the emphasis on defense. It's only fitting that it was the blueliners who made the difference between winning and losing Friday night. Alec Martinez may have scored to win the Cup, but Slava Voynov saved an otherwise-sure goal that ultmately paved the way for his team's second championship in three years.
Approaching the halfway mark of the second overtime in Game 5, the New York Rangers were pressing in the offensive zone, determined to shift the series back to Broadway where the Kings - whose series lead would be cut to one - would have to wait three agonizingly-long days to play Game 6. But at the 9:14 mark of the period, Rick Nash had an open net on Jonathan Quick's glove side. Nash fired the shot on net but defenseman Slava Voynov was alert enough to put his stick in the way of the winger's shot. Nash, who would score from that area nine of out 10 times, had his shot deflect off Voynov's stick and out of harm's way.
The score remained tied for another 5:29 when Martinez scored and the rest, as they say, was history.
While Drew Doughty was understandably their most significant selection at the 2008 Draft (2nd overall), the Los Angeles Kings found another gem when they chose a Russian blueliner by the name of Vyacheslav Voynov at 32nd overall. He may not have been as highly-touted as Doughty - nor was he NHL-ready like his future teammate - but Lombardi and company certainly saw a lot of potential in the young Russian despite barely being six-feet tall and weighing under 200 pounds.
Like most members of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, Voynov had to spend a few years developing in the minors before he could even think of joining the big club. The aforementioned overtime hero Alec Martinez, among others, was in the same boat.
In his first three years in the American League with the Manchester Monarchs, Voynov's goals, assists, points and plus-minus totals all increased each season. In 2008-09, Voynov had eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points. In his last full season in Manchester (2010-11), the Russian looked back on a campaign that saw him score 15 goals and add 36 assists for 51 points. In 2008-09, Voynov finished with a -3 rating followed by an even 0 rating the next season. In 2010-11, his plus-minus total skyrocketed to +21. It was clear as day that the Monarchs had a major advantage when Voynov was on the ice.
An early-season injury to Drew Doughty in 2011-12 led to Slava Voynov being called up to Los Angeles and while he was sent back to Manchester when Doughty returned, he was back with the big club soon enough - this time to stay. In fact, Voynov's short- and long-term impact on the Kings blueline proved to be so valuable that Dean Lombardi could afford to trade defenseman Jack Johnson at the trade deadline later that year. While the Kings did receive another piece to their championship puzzle in Jeff Carter in return, the move to ship Johnson only showed just how deep and talented Los Angeles's defensive core really was - a far cry from where it stood just five years earlier.
While his assists and points totals have both increased each regular season he has been in Los Angeles, Slava Voynov has averaged just under 55 blocked shots in the three seasons he has been with the Kings. Better, Voynov's postseason numbers in blocked shots went from 19 in 2012 and 22 in 2013 before jumping to 39 this past postseason which included, as we all saw, his game-saving stop on sniper Rick Nash.
He may still be a defensive liability once in a while (who isn't?) but Slava Voynov has come into his own and then some as a solid member of a defensive unit that is regarded as one of, if not the, best in hockey. He may not be as popular as Drew Doughty, as textbook as Willie Mitchell or even as intrepid as Matt Greene, but Slava Voynov has formed an on-ice identity that has helped shape the Los Angeles Kings into the team they are today. His contributions may go unnoticed at times but at 9:14 of the second-overtime on Friday night, his efforts were anything but. After all, his stop on Nash was the difference between his team winning the Cup to waiting and dreading all weekend for a Game 6 back in New York.
Fans may not always know he's there but when it comes right down to it, the unsung Slava Voynov has the sheer capability of playing the difference between winning and losing.