Editor’s Note: Of the 20-something players who played in 2014, only Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Trevor Lewis, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick remain with the Los Angeles Kings All others have retired or been traded. Join us for a trip down memory lane, reliving one of the most iconic moments in Los Angeles sports history.
While quite not the repeat of 2012 in which the Kings barely sneaked into the playoffs and went on the most insane playoff run, playing the near minimum to achieve victory, climbing atop the mountain for the first time in their 50 year history, 2014 was just as improbable, if not more so.
Guided by the ultra determined Dean Lombardi and the serious-but-not-too-serious Darryl Sutter, LA certainly did not have an easy entry into the playoffs. Under the new playoff format of top-three teams and two wild card spots, the 100-point Kings only managed third in the Pacific Division. With their spot cemented, some twist of fate saw them play arch rivals San Jose Sharks in the first round. But those plucky Kings pulled themselves up by their skate laces, kickstarted their (second) historic run by becoming just the fourth team to complete the comeback after being down 3-0 in a best-of-seven series, and did not “go quietly away.”
Walking into Staples Center that fateful night on June 13, 2014, there was a nervous buzz in the air. Inside, the building was chilly, air conditioning blasting extra high to accommodate a packed house and the Los Angeles summer heat outside. The smell of hot dogs and popcorn and beer greeted eager fans hoping to see history being made once more. The mood was tense but optimistic.
The Kings were up three games to one in the series, but the first two games had gone to overtime (and there may have been some questionable legality to the goals they scored) and they’d been forced to comeback in three of them (Game 3 was the only game in which they scored first). While fans were confident that the team could close out this series in five games, those who remembered 2012 were, understandably, a little more apprehensive. And anyone who had watched the Sharks series also had that consideration in the back of their minds—nothing is done until it’s done.
Playoff MVP Justin Williams got the Kings on the board early in the first period and the crowd went wild. But the pesky New York Rangers had some pluck of their own and scored two goals in the second period to take the lead. That nervous energy, which had calmed with Williams’ goal, returned with Brian Boyle’s shorthanded goal in the dying seconds of the period. Marian Gaborik’s tying goal barely soothed the restless crowd early in the third period, which was equal parts antsy and excited throughout the remainder of regulation. Every shot on goal only served to amp up fans; every missed net felt like a dagger to the heart. Could this be the goal that sealed the deal or would the Rangers live to see another day?
Fans were glued to the action, waiting with bated breath. An agonized groan escaped the collective mouths of 18,000 people when Ryan McDonagh nearly ended the game on the power play in the first overtime, the puck hitting the post and ricocheting past an unaware Jonathan Quick, who had no idea where the shot had come from until that blissful ping rang out through Staples Center.
Between the first and second overtime periods, fans recomposed themselves, trying to quell their anxious nerves. I gathered with a group of other like-minded fans, lamenting how nerve-wracking and not-fun this was. I’m not sure why we were convinced that, in the throes of a historical moment such as what we were witnessing, a hockey game was anything but fun. Looking back on it now, it seems silly. I could scarcely watch that second OT period, far too agitated to enjoy myself, just hoping and praying the Kings could pull this off. Every ping from the post or dull thud from Henrik Lundqvist’s pad was hell. Why won’t this game end already??
Halfway into OT2, an astonished Ohhh! rose from the crowd as Derek Stepan somehow missed a wide open, yawning cage that could’ve breathed life back into his team. And then it finally happened. Five minutes away from facing a third overtime, the crowd chanting “We want the Cup!”, it happened. Sitting literally on the edge of my seat and leaning far forward as if I could will the trio of Alec Martinez, Kyle Clifford, and Tyler Toffoli (while simultaneously thinking to myself “what the hell is this line?”) to score from 200 feet away, I witnessed something I’ll never forget.
Mentally, I didn’t even register seeing Toffoli’s shot bounce off Lundqvist’s pad. It was a set play, one they had practiced many times over. Shoot for the far pad, go for the rebound Jim Fox’s words echoed in my brain as Martinez, unlike Stepan minutes earlier, didn’t miss. This was the moment 18,118 people had waited for. The dam broke. The enthusiastic crowd leapt to their feet, roaring with approval. Black, white, and silver streamers fell from the rafters as organist extraordinaire Dieter Ruehle laid on the horn in exuberance. Shock, relief, incredulity, exhilaration. They did it. They won the Stanley Cup and I got to witness it. I got to be there in person to see them win. It felt like a fever dream, except this was real.
Gary Bettman’s presence did little to dim the fervor of the overjoyed crowd. While they took great pleasure in booing the reprehensible, villain-esque Commissioner of the National Hockey League, no one left. Everyone stuck around to see 23 guys on the ice get their hats, watch Williams be awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, and cheer once more as Dustin Brown lifted that big, shiny, silver trophy high above his head.
The feeling walking the halls of Staples Center postgame was one of elation. Fans chattered excitedly as they stood in line to get their Official Stanley Cup swag. Lines for merchandise stretched longer than any had that night for beer or even the bathrooms. We the fans may not have personally won the Cup, but that sensation of floating on air, felt like we did.