Part Two - In which the Los Angeles Kings have a chance to complete a Cup-winning sweep on home ice, but Martin Brodeur reminds everyone he’s been to this dance before.
For the past few weeks, the Staples Center in Los Angeles has been a whirr of activity. The Lakers, the Clippers, and the Kings all call this arena home and have made playoff runs this spring that, in some cases, have defied credulity. As the start of Game 3 lingers, Los Angeles fans are amassed in front of the arena, abuzz about the Kings in a way that hasn’t happened since 1993, when the Kings, despite having the Greatest Hockey Player Who Ever Lived on their team, were defeated by a Montreal Canadiens team that had three considerable advantages: a) history [The Canadiens had won 23 Stanley Cups by then and even lost 10 others. The Kings had never been to the Finals.], b) Patrick Roy, already a Cup-winning goalie and on his way to becoming the most decorated goaltender who ever lived, and c) Marty McSorley wasn’t on their team. [In one of the more bizarre turning points in Stanley Cup Finals history, McSorley was assessed a penalty in the third period of Game 2 for an illegally-curved blade on his stick. The ensuing power play brought the Canadiens back into the game, back into the series, and they never stopped. Three games later, it was over.]
This year, the Kings team has a similar feel, a mix of good homegrown talent (in 1993: Rob Blake, Dave Taylor, and Luc Robitaille; in 2012: Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, and Dustin Brown) and an imported crew of veterans from another successful team (back then, Edmonton’s Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, and Marty McSorley; this year, Philly’s Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Simon Gagné). Again, like in 1993, the Kings struck first in Game 1 against a goaltender that is widely considered the best in the world at his position. Back then, it was Patrick Roy. This time, Martin Brodeur. Marty was just up and coming as Roy started breaking all time records. Now, Brodeur holds many of those records. The difference today lies in the goalie 190 feet away. As much as I loved Kings goaltender Kelly Hrudey when I was 13 years old, Jonathan Quick is a significant upgrade. He’s held up this team all season when his front five weren’t living up to their talent and potential and now has the opportunity to overthrow Brodeur and the longstanding history of playoff failures by the Los Angeles Kings. The crowd outside Staples Center can’t wait for these two games at home, and neither can I. Shall we?
19:48 – Twelve seconds in, and we have a man down. Jonny Murray, one of the linesmen for this game, gets tagged in the back by Dustin Brown’s attempt to enter the offensive zone. Geez Louise, that looked like it hurt. As a hockey player, I’ve always had a contentious relationship with the zebras [For obvious reasons, that’s what we call the referees and linesmen in hockey. Clearly, we’re not that inventive, gimme a break.], but it’s not an easy job to be a hockey official. Watch them jump up the boards to avoid pucks so as not to interrupt play. They make it their job to be invisible while still trying to make calls in a game that happens so fast, even instant replay often can’t catch it. I hope he’s okay. Oh wait, he’s a hockey professional. He’s tougher than all of us.
17:40 – Simon Gagné just finished his first shift for the Kings in 62 games. The Kings signed two former Philadelphia Flyers in the offseason, Gagné and Mike Richards [They would later add Jeff Carter at the trade deadline from the Columbus Blue Jackets; all three of these men were teammates in Philly last season.], which many thought made the Kings a preseason favorite to win the Western Conference. They had already laid the groundwork with stars like Doughty, Kopitar, Brown, and Quick, but adding Philly’s captain and one of their best scorers? This team was stacked. Sadly, that was not the case as Gagné was injured early in the season and Richards didn’t really hit his stride until about a month ago. Now, two wins away from the Stanley Cup, Gagné’s concussion symptoms have subsided, and all is right with the world. Welcome back, Simon.
11:43 – Oh yeah, there’s a hockey game going on. Both teams look sharp so far, and the Kings are giving the hometown crowd a good effort. Much of the narrative of this playoff run has been the Kings impeccable record playing on foreign ice, but this is the first Stanley Cup Final game in Los Angeles since 1993. The Lakers may still rule Los Angeles, but the Kings fans are making a pretty good show of it so far. Way to go, Southern California hockey fans.
4:24 – An accidental high stick from Jeff Carter during the penalty kill gives the New Jersey Devils a two-man advantage for a full minute, including a double minor [a four, instead of two, minute penalty that occurs often when players are cut by an errant stick] that will leave the Kings shorthanded for most of the rest of the period. These are often the defining moments in hockey games. If Jersey converts on this power play, they take control of this game and work their way back into the series. If Los Angeles kills this two-man disadvantage, their pre-existing momentum goes into full Freight Train mode.
3:27 – Jonathan Quick just made the Save of the Year. I mentioned earlier how fast he is with his pads? Holy shit.
0:24 – The penalty kill is over, and the L.A. crowd is so very into this game. I think I might pass out.
Intermission: Yeah, so I’m not really including the peripheral coverage of these games, but fuck it, The Great One makes an appearance. Wayne Gretzky, the most important hockey player who ever lived, is weighing in on the relevance of these Finals to the landscape of Southern California and hockey everywhere. There’s so much heartbreak in his eyes I can’t help but almost cry with him. The players are bigger and stronger and “playing at such a high level”, he seems almost jealous of them. Youth hockey in California (and in other non-hockey states) is growing because of this team [I don’t think Gretzky will ever take credit for it verbally, but he is the sole reason for this phenomenon and the tear in his eye shows that at some level he knows it] and the work of the Gretzky-led 1993 Kings team is where it truly started. I hope that he realizes that when this championship happens [Go Kings, Go!], it is in no small way thanks to him. Go Kings. Go Gretzky.
17:20 – Quick makes a phantom save in which the first shot caroms off his glove on his left side. He then turns to the left to follow what years of experience have told him should be the natural flight of the puck. It’s not. The puck bounces in front of the net to Ryan Carter, who would bury the go-ahead goal were it not for Quick’s remarkable positioning, keeping his right arm up and inadvertently deflecting the shot away even though he was facing the wrong direction. Lucky? Maybe. Best goalie alive? I hope so. Go USA hockey.
14:20 – Kings goal: Martinez, assists: King, Lewis. Brodeur has been every bit Quick’s equal to this point, but while fighting off an impressive fourth-line barrage from the Kings, a puck he thinks is trapped under his leg pad comes loose and is knocked in by the extra effort of a Kings defenseman. It’s a sucky goal to give up, and were I Brodeur, I’d be piping mad too. However, I think his ire should be directed toward his defensemen, not the refs.
5:22 – Pat Sajak, Alyssa Milano, LL Cool J, David Beckham, and Al Michaels are all in attendance. Is there a more desperate group of non-Jack Nicholsons on Earth? Will Ferrell is clearly the most iconic Kings fan we have, but he’s either not in the arena or the cameramen have not yet found him. At least they close with Michaels, author of the greatest line in the history of sport, “Do you believe in miracles?” GO USA HOCKEY!!!
4:53 – Kings goal: Kopitar, assists : Brown, Williams. Go Slovenian hockey. Kopitar scores a highlight-reel goal from a great pass by Dustin Brown after Williams’ behind-the-back pass to start the breakout. I’m still trying to catch my breath, but the implication is clear. The Kings own this series.
18:37 – Penner and Clarkson continue to argue about playoff beards. Penner still wins, but Clarkson has shown his quality throughout this series.
15:45 – On a potentially game-finishing power play, Jeff Carter just took one of the greatest faceoffs I’ve ever seen. He feints right, and everyone thinks he’s not paying attention, but once the puck drops, he draws it back to a Kings stick. Then, after sustained pressure, New Jersey has a chance to clear the puck out of their zone [at which point, the offside rule would require every Los Angeles player to exit the zone before the puck re-enters] but Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell decides to play shortstop and make an Ozzie Smith catch at the blue line. I would say I’m surprised, but my brother Trevor has noticed this before the announcers. He’s a baseball fan as well, and he’s good at that kind of thing. The ensuing rush results in Kings goal: Carter, assists: Richards, Mitchell. Holy crap, we’re up 3-0?
13:08 – I guess Justin Williams forgot that this game was over. Kings goal: Williams, assists: Doughty, Kopitar. Way to show up for the home crowd, guys. The only question left is whether or not Quick gets a shutout.
2:49 – The Kings are still dominating every aspect of this game. Obviously, it’s over, but where New Jersey has given up, the Kings keep pushing, and the crowd is appreciative. One win away from the Stanley Cup. That’s a fun thing to say…
20:00 – This is it. Game Four, at home, with a chance to sweep. The Kings are 15-2 these playoffs, and it’s about goddamn time.
17:22 – The Devils have switched up their defensive alignments so that two bigger, more physical defensemen match up against the Kings’ second line. This seems like a trivial detail, but on the bench, small changes like this make all the difference. Ten gets you twenty that one of those New Jersey defenseman was watching the play of the past three games and said, “Coach. I want that guy. I can take him.” Hockey players come on and off the bench so often it’s difficult sometimes for the casual television viewer to appreciate the matchups that occur during line changes. But when you’re sitting on the bench and you see someone tearing up your team whom you know you could stop, you bet your fucking ass you want on the ice at a certain time.
15:38 – A great save by Brodeur and the Kings look a little bit cocky. The shot comes in from Alec Martinez, who I find indicative on one of my favorite subplots of these Finals. If the Kings pull through and win the Stanley Cup, there will never have been a Cup winning parade that has so many Latino fans in attendance. I mention this not only because my mother’s side of the family is Mexican, but also because hockey has been whitewashed longer than most sports. Its lack of popularity in the American melting pot made it an extremely Canadian phenomenon for much of the past century, and the West’s attitude toward communist Eastern Europe and Russia made it grossly xenophobic. The influx of European players, black players (both American and Canadian), Korean players, Native American players, and Latino players is a start. Fuck yeah, Alec Martinez. You may be from Michigan, but Chicanos in Los Angeles love you. And the rest of the gringos on Los Reyes.
11:11 – “The first strong Quick save of the game!” Jonathan Quick makes a great glove save against a New Jersey power play. He’s made so many game-saving stops, it’s not a question of “if” anymore, but of “when” and “how many”. This is playoff hockey. Goaltenders, always important during the regular season, become mythic figures in the second season, because they hold sway over everything that happens. A goalie on a hot streak can win a series by his lonesome. But he can also elevate his team. When the guy behind you is playing that great, you can push harder offensively, knowing he’s got your back. There’s a feeling of invincibility when your goalie is that good, but in these Cup Finals, both goalies are that good and someone has to be wrong.
3:12 – A Kings shot glances off the post and the crowd erupts. Say what you want about Southern California not being a place that really appreciates hockey, they can sense how close they are to a sweep and they’ve rallied behind their team.
0:45 – Bryce Salvador is a thug. Fuck that guy.
0:24 – Kings just hit the post again. Fuck me, this is excruciating.
15:47 – Consecutive shots from Kings defensemen. Everyone is in on the play and the defensive players are joining the rush enthusiastically. The Kings are aggressively pursuing that first goal. Maybe too much. They’re up three games to none, in the middle of an unprecedented playoff streak, but somehow, this game still reeks of desperation. 45 years of mediocrity will do that to you, I suppose.
11:41 – A rough scrum behind the net results in an interference penalty for Bryce Salvador. Have I mentioned that I hate that dude? The good news is: the Kings are pressing. All they need is one mistake from Brodeur.
4:49 – The Kings are doing everything right. Sustained pressure, relentless defense… shit, Simon Gagné just banked a shot off Marty’s pads on an almost-breakaway. This fucking goal just won’t come.
0:00 – This game feels like a four-overtime marathon. The Kings are doing everything right, except for scoring. I’ve defended you for years, Marty. I’ve called you maybe the greatest goaltender of all time. I’m pretty sure I hate you right now.
15:43 – This period has been as tentative as the rest of the game. The tension is rising and neither team wants to make the first fuck-up. Obviously, Jersey’s got more to lose, but when the puck slides free and an odd-man rush ensues for Kings? Holy shit, does Brodeur make his team proud. Splayed across the ice, having just jutted out his stick to interrupt what should have been the Stanley Cup winning goal, Brodeur reminds us of why we always see him in these situations. Sure, he’s lost Cups before, but he’s won three of them. And he doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.
15:15 – I take back everything I just said about Marty Brodeur. He gets in the face of a Kings forward (Jordan Nolan) for following after a puck that was loose. Brodeur thought he had it covered and the refs must have lost sight of it because they agreed and blew the whistle, but as the puck slides into the crease, Nolan is still making an effort to try to bank it home. After the whistle blows, Marty stands up violently to try to cross-check Nolan away. Not only should that be a penalty, but the still loose puck is drifting through the crease as Brodeur throws his hissy-fit.
13:30 – Brodeur handles the puck carelessly in front of his net and Dustin Brown almost makes him pay for it. The crowd is letting Marty have it. Los Angeles, both the city and the team, want this so very badly.
12:02 – Cue The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. New Jersey goal: Elias, assists: Salvador (thug), Zubrus. Zubrus makes a great play behind the net, staying with the puck despite the Kings pressure, passing it out to the point for a shot from the defenseman Bryce Thug. Quick makes the save, but Elias is there to pick up the trash. It’s a great goal for a desperate team, but it hasn’t quite knocked the wind out of the L.A. crowd just yet. Immediately after, they break into a resounding “Go Kings, Go!” chant.
11:08 – And just like that, the Kings get the power play on a questionable call. Dustin Brown gets his face rubbed into the glass and he is better than anyone else in the NHL at drawing penalties. In other words, you love him when he’s on your team, but to the rest of the NHL, fuck that guy. I wonder, are the referees trying to tie this game? Don’t they get paid more if the series lasts seven? Maybe they just want to get home to their families. Father’s Day is coming up.
11:02 – That was a short power play. Kings goal: Doughty, assists: Richards, Kopitar. A perfectly executed offensive zone faceoff ties this game and the crowd can’t decide how hard they want to cheer for their team over it giving Marty the business.
5:05 – Sweet Christ, the Kings are pouring it on. Breakaway chances, passes through the slot, I think they just knocked Brodeur over! After forty-five years, this is really happening, isn’t it?
4:30 – No, it’s not. Devils goal: Henrique, assists: Clarkson, Ponikarovsky. Henrique, who has already scored heroic game and series-winning goals in these playoffs, finally manages to silence the home crowd. It’s a great play and a beautiful shot, but I don’t care. I hate him. I hate him so much.
0:00 – The Kings may have pulled their goalie or something. I don’t know. I don’t care. [0:19 – Devils empty net goal: Kovalchuk, assists: Zajac, Salvador (are you fucking kidding me?)] It’s weird how with playoff hockey, even with a 3-1 lead, a single playoff loss can be so fucking heartbreaking. I feel like my dad just cut off my hand.