If I told you that I knew the Los Angeles Kings would win Game 7 of their Western Final series with the Chicago Blackhawks, you would have been able to see the roaming eyes, quivering lips and the overall nervous demeanor you'd see in any liar.
The double-overtime loss in Game 5 was tough but realistically, few expected the defending champs to be ousted in five games. Game 6, as far as I'm concerned, was the equivalent to Game 7. Playing at home, it was the Kings' last great chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Then, when they surrendered their lead and lost late in the third thanks in large part to an uncharacteristically shoddy defense, it appeared as if the Blackhawks were well on their way, returning home for the decisive game where they were 7-1 this postseason. They even opened with a 2-0 lead in said seventh game. But as deep and talented as the Blackhawks were, even I forgot the sheer resilience that makes the Los Angeles Kings what they are today.
During Game 6 of the Western Final, CBC's Eliotte Friedman said that the Kings and the Blackhawks would be the two premier clubs in their conference for years to come. With both teams having signed much of their respective cores to long-term deals, it was apparent that, on paper at least, these two clubs would dominate for years to come. But fans of both clubs had had to suffer through long stretches of futility. They've been patient enough for so long already. The prospect of what is to come for both teams in the future certainly is exciting to think about. But neither team got to the Western Final and were simply happy to be there.
Having won the Stanley Cup last year, the Chicago Blackhawks were vying to become the first team in 16 years to repeat as winners of Lord Stanley's mug. Plus, a third championship in five years would have everyone talking dynasty, and in a salary cap era, that would be pretty darn exhilarating.
The Los Angeles Kings, on the other hand, advanced to the Western Final for the third-straight year - first time in franchise history - and while they did win the Cup in 2012, it is now long enough ago where fans aren't so content to look back on history as they are with writing a new chapter in history.
Amidst the consistent optimism that hovered around Los Angeles all weekend was a dark cloud of skepticism. 2014 was the Kings' long-awaited Conference Final rematch with the Blackhawks, who eliminated them in five games just the previous spring. But when Game 7 started, that skepticism grew.
The Hawks burst out of the gate with a 2-0 lead. But thanks to quick goals by Jeff Carter and Justin Williams, the Kings were right back in it. But Patrick Sharp regained the Chicago lead just 12 seconds later. There was a similar pattern in Game 5, actually. But for many of the other 28 teams, throwing in the towel was all but certain if the big, bad Blackhawks would be so dominant once, much less on multiple occasions. But the Los Angeles Kings were not, and are not, most teams.
As phenomenal as their playoff run in 2012 was, the Los Angeles Kings went above and beyond in 2014 so far.
In the opening round, they became just the fourth team in NHL history to come back from an 0-3 series deficit to win when they shocked a very good San Jose Sharks team. In the next round, they took a 2-0 series lead against the crosstown Anaheim Ducks only to lose the next three games. It appeared as if the Ducks were on their way - but the Kings persevered to win the final two games. With that, the Kings became the first team in NHL history to win two series in one postseason after losing three-straight games in both. Even after last night's win in Chicago, the Kings made more history becoming the first team ever to play seven-game series in each of the first three rounds and winning each one.
In addition to their ability to rewrite history, skeptics could suggest putting (using a common baseball term) an asterisk next to Los Angeles's Cup win in 2012. But even then, they made history becoming the first No. 8 seed to eliminate the top three seeds in their conference en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Plus, now that the NHL's playoff format has changed, the 2012 Los Angeles Kings will now be the only team to have accomplished such a feat.
As for the talk of an asterisk, perhaps the Kings would have had a tougher time had they played San Jose and not St. Louis in Round 2, Chicago and not Phoenix in Round 3 or the Rangers instead of the Devils in the Stanley Cup Final. Whoever suggests such a ridiculous notion simply doesn't have anything better to do. They also failed to remember that the Kings ousted the President's Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in five games when few experts thought they could avoid being swept, much less win the series.
In addition, Jonathan Quick led the 29th-ranked offense into the playoffs before putting up legendary numbers en route to a very-deserving Conn Smythe win. The Kings also went 16-4 that spring, two losses fewer than a 1998 Detroit Red Wings team that included four Hall-of-Famers (Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Larry Murphy, Slava Fetisov). In three years, that number will increase to five when Nicklas Lidstrom gets inducted into hockey's ultimate shrine.
But for those who could seriously doubt the Kings' accomplishments in 2012 simply because of who they played, 2014 should have rectified such a silly stand. Beating the Sharks and Ducks would have been hard enough, but the Kings made it harder on themselves but still won. Then, there was the Western Final against Chicago which, as far as I was concerned, was akin to a Russian novel. The series was full so many ups and downs, more plot twists than the average reader could handle, character development that would have left God himself angrily tossing his pen and paper into the corner of the room and conflict that would have made Jerry Springer look like a little girl's tea party. As for the climax, well, you can get your mind in the gutter and add your own sexual innuendo in there. The point is, plain and simply, the Kings and Blackhawks put on one of the greatest series in playoff history - and as resilient as the Blackhawks were, the Kings were one better. After all, to be the best, you have to beat the best - and the Los Angeles Kings beat the best. It's just that simple.
The hearts of the fans from both fan bases just simply couldn't take it. It's amazing that everyone is still alive and kicking after the spectacle we witnessed lo these last couple of weeks. But as wonderful as what the Los Angeles Kings accomplished as a team over the last six weeks, they still have one more hill to climb.
The 2014 Stanley Cup Final will mark the head-to-head duel between the two greatest goaltenders in hockey today. It's east coast vs. west coast, Broadway vs. Hollywood, car vs. subway. Whichever way you want to look at it, there is still one more battle to be had and while some experts aren't giving the Rangers much of a chance, I know that this will be one series that should go the distance. After all, it wasn't too long ago when the Kings were written off as underdogs - and look what they did despite that. The New York Rangers are capable of the same destiny, but it's up to the silver-and-black to stop that.
Whether we're talking about the 2012 playoffs, the Western Final run in 2013 or what they accomplished thus far this spring, the Los Angeles Kings have regularly showcased why they are regarded as arguably the most resilient team in hockey team today.
When you look at a roster that includes stars like Kopitar and Gaborik to youngsters like Toffoli and Pearson to a stalwart in goal named Quick, you see what the Los Angeles Kings stand for. Furthermore, when it comes to the Los Angeles Kings, you just have to #Believe.