The roller coaster which has been the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Kings season continued Sunday night in a series clinching 2-1 overtime victory over the top seeded Vancouver Canucks.
Jarrett Stoll’s game winner at 4:27 of the extra period propelled the eighth seeded Kings into the second round for the first time since the 2001 season where they will face the second seeded St. Louis Blues.
This series saw all the ingredients which had contributed to the Kings season long success. Strong play by goaltender Jonathan Quick, solid defense, aggressive forechecking, physical play and timely offensive contributions from several lines. In short it was a total team effort.
What makes this victory so satisfying is the Kings have not been without their share of adversity. Since being eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the 2011 playoffs Los Angeles has endured the firing of head coach Terry Murray, fans calling for the head of General Manager Dean Lombardi after two controversial trades and a flat out terrible offensive showing that saw the Kings at or near the bottom of the league in the goals scored department all season long.
To cap things off the Kings final two games of the regular season against the San Jose Sharks saw them blow leads in both games resulting in the loss of a division title, a fall in the playoff standings from three to eight and a first round match with the Vancouver Canucks who finished the regular season 16 points better than Los Angeles.
Despite all this the players never stopped believing in themselves or the philosophies of current head coach Darryl Sutter. They showed determination, heart, grit and toughness in the dispatching of Vancouver in five games.
The tone for all of the above traits was set by the play of Kings captain Dustin Brown. Throughout the series he proved why he wears the “C”. Whether it was two shorthanded goals in game two or his message sending hit on Henrik Sedin in game three, Brown never backed down from the physical play while showing the heart of a leader. Hard to believe the Kings reportedly considered trading Brown earlier this season.
Brown lead the charge offensively while goaltender Jonathan Quick continued his season long all-star level play. Quick made big save after big save and turned the tide in the game five clincher when he stopped Daniel Sedin on a second period breakaway to keep the Kings within one goal. Quick finished the series with a record of 4-1, a goals against average of 1.59 and a save percentage of .953.
I have rooted for Kings my entire life. I wasn’t alive when Rogie Vachon was making his name in Kings history. I do however remember goaltenders like Markus Mattsson, Kelly Hrudey, Glenn Healey, Felix Potvin and Dan Cloutier. If I say nothing else with more sincerity about the Los Angeles Kings than what I’m about to write next it’s this…”I thank the hockey gods daily for Jonathan Quick!” Let me repeat this, “I thank the hockey gods daily for Jonathan Quick!!!”
Without his play the King season would have been a epic disaster. He won 35 games this year. The Kings scored the second fewest goals of any team in the NHL this season. Imagine how many Quck could have won if the Kings finished in the middle of the standings or higher.
Because of Quick and the defensive play in front of him Los Angeles has proved it can compete with any team remaining in the postseason. The only question is can the offense score enough?
Don’t get me wrong, I want a Stanley Cup for the Kings more than anything. That being said, my definition for success for this years team was an appearance in the second round. After two first round exits the previous two years preceded by a decade of no postseason hockey I felt that was a reasonable goal given the talent of the team along with recent accomplishments.
For this fan the 2011-2012 season is a success regardless of what happens from here on out. Starting this weekend and who knows for how long, the Kings are playing with house money.
But let’s not stop there, let’s continue to dream and think big in Tinseltown. A championship CAN be won here. A June parade down Figueroa to celebrate the accomplishments of a hockey team IS possible. A first round elimination of the team with the best regular season record was a crowning achievement but a Stanley Cup would be the ultimate jewel in the crown.
Thanks for stepping into the clubhouse.
Follow me on twitter @joesclubhouse