Stanley Cup!

So hey, yeah, the Los Angeles Kings kinda won the Stanley Cup recently. (!!!)

Seeing a team I follow win the Cup is kind of a big deal. I’ve been a hockey fan for about twenty years, ever since I got caught up in the Buffalo Sabres of the early 1990s, back when Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny were lighting the league on fire. I’ve been a Sabres fan, in varying degrees of intensity, ever since. But it wasn’t until I moved out to Los Angeles that I found my Western Conference team, the Kings.

They fit right in with my sports fandom mindset: likable, hard-working, hapless, and they’d never won anything. In other words, they reminded me of Buffalo, the metaphorical city of my psyche. As a sports fan whose teams had never, ever won a championship, the Kings fit my root-for-the-underdog specs perfectly.

Over the past few years, I’ve watched the Kings trade away or lose many of my favorite players, replacing them with what the GM called “character guys” but I called “media-savvy North American automatons.” (As a writer, it’s possible I have a different definition of “character” than most hockey coaches.) But even as I liked the Kings less, they steadily improved their play, thanks largely to solid defensive coaching and the spectacular goaltending of Jonathan Quick. I’ve got to hand it to Dean Lombardi; his deals worked.

This year was looking to be another playoff disappointment, though. The Kings squeaked into the eighth seed on their back heels, and were up against the high-powered Vancouver Canucks in the first round. I thought they were a destined for another five- or six-game exit.

But then something extraordinary happened. A perfect storm. After a mediocre year of enemic offense, the Kings star players started to show up, all at the same time. Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar started to produce. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter finally started to provide some secondary scoring. Guys who had atrocious years, like Dustin Penner and Jarret Stoll, suddenly started to contribute. The defense locked it down brilliantly. And Quick stood on his head, like always.

I have never, ever seen a team play as well in the playoffs as this year’s Kings. They took out the top three seeds in their conference to advance to the finals, going 12-2 on the way. They took a 3-0 series lead in every round. They dominated so much that I stopped tweeting or blogging about hockey entirely in fear of jinxing the run. As well as they played, though, they really were a lucky bounce, a bad call, a brilliant save, or an amazing play away from losing many of the games. This playoffs showed me how really, really hard it is to win the Stanley Cup. In fact, games four and five against the Devils had me wondering if the wheels of fortune had finally come flying off the cart. But they finally pulled it out with a dominating home-ice victory in game six.

Holy shit! One of my teams won a championship! Whoops, there goes my underdog street cred!

Of course, I missed the game. The Kings raised the Stanley Cup while I was on a mountain in New Mexico without a TV, learning how to write more better. Hence my delayed celebratory post. And yes, this didn’t exactly feel like my Kings team, less a dysfunctional gang of misfits, castoffs, and interesting “characters” than a well-oiled army. But I’ll still take it. The monkey’s off my (fan) back. I’m especially happy for the amazing Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar (maybe the nicest guy in hockey), and some of the team’s less likely new heroes like Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez, Jordan Nolan, Dwight King, and Trevor Lewis, who stepped up their game at just the right time. Congrats, Kings! It took forty-odd years, but you got your Cup!

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