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Los Angeles Kings win Stanley Cup the hard way
By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup the hard way, ending their marathon playoff run with a double overtime thriller.
A post-season that started with the Kings having to dig themselves out of a three-game hole against San Jose ended Friday night in a 3-2 double-overtime triumph over the New York Rangers to seal their second Cup in three seasons.
The final lasted five games, with three going to overtime — including two double OT contests. It was the only playoff series that didn't go the distance for the Kings.
Alec Martinez's winner at 14:43 of the second overtime was a fitting conclusion to a post-season slog that saw the Kings run a gauntlet of Western Conference heavyweights before dispatching the speedy Rangers in the final.
It was the 26th game of the Los Angles playoff run, matching the single-year league record set by Philadelphia in 1987 and Calgary in 2004.
The Kings had to go through a murderer's row in the West just to get to the final after finishing 10th in the league with a 46-26-8 record and 100 points. Los Angles had to get by San Jose (111 points), Anaheim (116) and defending champion Chicago (107) in one of the most gruelling post-season routes on record.
Their latest campaign lasted 115 games, counting seven pre-season, 82 regular-season and a record 26 post-season contests.
Los Angeles went 7-0 in playoff elimination games along the way. Only the 1975 Islanders won more (eight).
The Kings are only the fourth team in playoff history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit in rallying to beat the Sharks in the first round. And they are the first team to play — and win — three Game 7s on the road in a single post-season.
Throughout it all burned the belief that if the Kings played their game, they knew they were tough to beat.
"We really earned it," said forward Justin Williams, named winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after opening the scoring with his ninth goal and 25th point of the post-season.
"It's been a wild year," said forward Jeff Carter. "A lot of hockey, a lot of ups and downs ... We had to dig deep. We really had to battle."
Like teammate Drew Doughty, Carter won Olympic gold and hoisted the Cup in 2014.
"A hell of a year," he said. "Couldn't ask for anything more."
Captain Dustin Brown hoisted the Cup first, then handed it off to veteran defenceman Robyn Regehr, a spectator since suffering an injury in Game 1 of the Anaheim series.
Brown sacrificed his body to get to the Cup, delivering 125 hits in the post-season.
Family and friends packed the ice as fans pressed their nose to the glass to watch the post-game partying. Coach Darryl Sutter watched with a smile, his son Christopher — who has Down Syndrome — hoisting the Cup in the celebration.
"You got to give these guys full marks," he said simply of his players.
The Kings squandered 3-0 series leads both times en route to hoisting the Cup. But they got the job done in five games — three wins coming via overtime — this time compared to six against New Jersey in 2012.
Los Angeles' remarkable road to this Cup was long and tortuous. It was an edge-of-your-seat record-setting ride though all-comers that will be hard to beat.
Martinez ended the longest game in Kings' history, surpassing Game 5 of the 2013 Western Conference final (91:40), by wristing home a rebound of a Tyler Toffoli shot to seal the Cup.
"I haven't been married and I haven't had kids but as far as I'm concerned so far this is the greatest feeling in the world," Martinez said after his third winning goal of the playoffs.
"It came out pretty quick," he said of the rebound. "I just tried to get it on net then I blacked out."
Amazingly Los Angeles did not hold a lead in the first three games of the final. The Kings led for just 14.6 per cent of the first four games — a 40:01 stretch that was all in Game 3.
The Kings trailed 2-0 the first two games of the series but rallied both times to win in OT.
The Rangers probably deserved better.
"Obviously everybody's very disappointed in the outcome," said New York coach Alain Vigneault whose team went past Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Montreal en route to the Rangers' first final in 20 years.
"You go into this hoping that you don't regret anything. We put it out there," he added. "We gave our best shot, best effort. Three games here all went to OT. What can I say?"
The never-say-die Kings, who trailed by two goals four times in the first two games of the final, proved once again that the third period is their domain. They have four victories this post-season when trailing after two periods. And in mounting the latest comeback, they put an end to New York's remarkable 5-0 record in elimination games.
The win improved the Kings' playoff overtime record in 2014 to 5-2.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist kept the Rangers in the game for the second outing in a row. The elegant Swede stood on his head for much of the evening, especially when push came to shove.
"During the regular time he made some big saves. I thought in the overtime, though, that's when we played our better hockey of the night," said Vigneault. "Had some real good looks. Both goaltenders were outstanding."
Lundqvist ended the evening face down in disbelief. He may still be shaking his head.
The contest started slowly and took its time to boil, but finished in nail-biting, adrenalin-pumping end-to-end fashion.
The third period was all Kings as a goal by Marian Gaborik pulled Los Angeles even at 2-2 some eight minutes in. Gaborik knocking in a rebound of a Doughty wrister from the point at 7:56. It was his 14th of the playoffs — following a season in which he had 11 goals in 41 games.
Los Angeles outshot New York 12-3 in the period and 29-15 in regulation time. The shots were 42-25 for L.A. after four periods of hockey and 51-30 when the dust settled.
Overtime was a thrill ride as both teams hit the post and Los Angeles poured it on. The Kings also had to kill off a minor penalty in each overtime.
New York defenceman Ryan McDonagh hit the post with a blast from the blue-line in the first OT period. Toffoli also rang a shot off the post, some 13 minutes in. Lundqvist stopped Williams twice at point-blank range during one sequence late in overtime as the Kings turned the screws.
Then the Rangers mounted two assaults on the L.A. goal before Chris Kreider fired wide on a semi-breakaway.
In the second overtime, a Dan Girardi shot clipped the outside of the Kings post and L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick make several key saves.
Kreider and Brian Boyle scored for the Rangers in a 3:53 stretch late in the second period — the first on the power-play, the second short-handed — as New York clawed its way back to lead 2-1 after 40 minutes that saw just 12 shots on the L.A. goal.
That New York outburst silenced the sellout crowd of 18,713 at Staples Center.
The Rangers were 11-1 when leading after two periods in the playoffs and had won 39 of 43 games in that scenario including the regular season. But L.A. refused to go quietly.
The Kings have outscored their opponents 30-16 in the third period this post-season, including 3-0 in the Cup final.
Friday's game was the 93rd game of the 2014 playoffs, surpassing the previous single-year record of 92 established in 1991.
It was also the 63rd post-season game for the Kings dating to 2012, tying the NHL record for most games over a three-year span (Dallas, 1998-00; Detroit: 2007-09).
It was the 25th post-season game for the Rangers, who finished 12th in the league at 45-31-6 and 96 points but still made it to their first final in 20 years by eliminating Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Montreal.
Going into Friday, the Rangers were 5-0 when facing elimination. Lundqvist led the way in such games with a 1.00 goals-against average and .971 save percentage.
The Rangers' record in elimination matches is now 11-3 dating back to 2012.
New York hadn't got a shot on target by the time the Kings went ahead at 6:04, with Williams scoring on a deft backhand as linemates Jarret Stoll and Dwight King poked away at Lundqvist after a shot from the point by Willie Mitchell.
It took New York almost eight minutes to record a shot on goal. That followed a third period in Game 4 in which they only managed one shot.
It took the Kings some 27 minutes to crack double digits in shots. New York, frustrated for stretches by the L.A. forecheck, was stuck at seven.
The New York power play, 1-for-19 in the final up until then, finally clicked at 15:37 of the second period as Kreider tipped in a McDonagh feed from the faceoff circle to tie it at 1-1. McDonagh threaded the pass through three Kings to set up the goal, which came on the Rangers' 11th shot of the night.
McDonagh, who turned 25 on Friday, becomes the first player to record a point on his birthday in the Cup final since Jari Kurri did it in 1990 for the Oilers.
Boyle then scored shorthanded to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead at 19:30. The big man deftly roofed the puck after a nice curl-and-drag past Doughty, with New York's Dominic Moore in the penalty box for hooking. The speedy Carl Hagelin triggered the play, beating defenceman Slava Voynov to the puck, as Boyle notched his third of the post-season.
The Rangers' third short-handed goal of the playoffs had Moore celebrating in the box.
The Kings ranked 26th in the league in average goals per game during the regular season, averaging 2.42 a game. It helped that they led the league with just 2.05 goals against per game.
They found their scoring touch in the playoffs, leading all teams with an average of 3.40 goals a game going into Friday.
It was the 26th overtime game of the playoffs, tied for the third-highest total in one year (the record of 28 was set in 1993).
Los Angeles is the 17th team in NHL history to win the Cup in overtime and the first to do so at home since the 1980 Islanders.