Final Take: The 2011-2012 Los Angeles Kings Season

On Fox Sports Net affiliates, the last part of any of their sports’ their post-game show is called a “Final Take”, usually recapping the game itself set to music. Well, here’s my version, this time, it’s my take of the Los Angeles Kings’ season, culminating with their first Stanley Cup championship last night.

At the end of last season, when the Los Angeles Kings was eliminated in the first round for a second straight year, General Manager Dean Lombardi need to make some drastic changes in order for the Kings to become Stanley Cup contenders. The day before the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the first move was made. The Kings traded Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds to the Philadelphia Flyers for Mike Richards. The day after the Draft, the next move was made. The Kings traded veteran forward Ryan Smyth back toa place he knows best: the Edmonton Oilers, in exchange for an underrated grinder with a Stanley Cup ring: Colin Fraser. Then on the first day of Free Agency, the Kings signed Simon Gagne. It seemed like the Kings were ready to contend for Lord Stanley.

The Kings started the season in Stockholm with a game against the New York Rangers. After their European premiere, the Kings were playing like a .500 team headed into December. After a 4-game losing streak, head coach Terry Murray was relieved of his duties. While the search for a new head coach took place, assistant coach John Stevens took helm of the Kings bench. It wasn’t that long before their new head coach was named. Darryl Sutter, the man who first coached with the Chicago Blackhawks and then coached the Calgary Flames to a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2004, was the new head coach. After continuing to tread water for the next three months, the Kings make their final move that would set the pace for the events to come. On Trade Deadline Day, the Kings sent out defenseman Jack Johnson to Columbus in exchange for prolific goal scorer Jeff Carter. The Kings started to contend in the month of March, going 10-4-1: the best month they would play this season. By the end of the season, the Kings were locked into the 8th spot in the Western Conference.

The Kings’ first round opponent was the defending Western Conference AND Presidents’ Trophy champion Vancouver Canucks. After two 4-2 wins in Vancouver, the Kings took a 3-0 series lead with a with a 1-0 shutout; ironic for a team that lost 6 times in the regular season by that score. After dropping Game 4, Jarret Stoll delivered the dagger to the Canucks in overtime of Game 5. 4 wins down, 12 wins to go. In the next round, the Kings faced off against another division champion, the St. Louis Blues. The Blues were no match for the Kings as they turned Brian Elliott into a mortal, outscoring the Bluenotes 15-6 in a 4-game sweep. 8 wins down, 8 wins to go. In the Western Conference Final, the Kings faced off against the third and final division champion in the conference, the Phoenix Coyotes. Like in the first two rounds, the Kings took a 3-0 series lead. While they didn’t seal the deal in Game 4, the Kings sealed the deal in Game 5 in dramatic fashion, when Dustin Penner scored the overtime winner. Suddenly, a city best known for Dodger baseball and Laker dynasties suddenly became A HOCKEY TOWN!

The Kings opponent in the Stanley Cup Final was, like them, another improbable team destined for greatness. The 6-seed New Jersey Devils fought their way past the surprise Southeast Division champion Florida Panthers, a physically and mentally drained Philadelphia Flyers,  and put the ghosts of 1994 to rest by ousting their Hudson River rival New York Rangers in 6. Yet for the Kings, the beat goes on. They took a 3-0 series lead, headed into Game 4 for the fourth straight series: the first time this has ever been done in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And with a sense of desperation coming towards New Jersey, the Devils won the next two games. It was the first time in the playoff season that the Kings played past 5 games in a best-of-7 series. In the Kings’ final home game of the 2011-2012 season, they beat the Devils 6-1, in the largest margin of victory in a Stanley Cup-clinching game since 1991.

And so, after 45 years of trying, the Los Angeles Kings are finally Stanley Cup Champions. The team founded by Canadian magnate Jack Kent Cooke when the NHL expanded to 12 teams in 1967, originally draped in “Forum Blue” and Gold, and molded by legendary players like Rogie Vachon, Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor, Charlie Simmer, Luc Robitaille, and Wayne Gretzky, and moments like the Miracle on Manchester and the Stunner at Staples, made way for hockey to grow in the Western United States. And even though their rival Anaheim Ducks became the first West Coast team to win the Stanley Cup 5 years ago, this championship is for the Original West Coast NHL team.

This improbable championship continues the trend of  “It doesn’t matter what you do in the regular season. All that matters is what you do when the playoffs come.” Look at the 2011 St.Louis Cardinals.  They were 10 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the race for the National League Wild Card headed into the September stretch run. They won 23 of their last 32 games to earn the Wild Card. Then they beat the best team in the National League, the Philadelphia Phillies in 5 games with a 1-0 shutout in the Division Series. In the National League Championship Series, they beat their division rival, the Milwaukee Brewers, in 6 games to earn their first trip to the World Series in 5 years. In the Fall Classic, they beat the two-time American League Champion Texas Rangers in an epic 7-game series to win their 11th World Series championship. Also look at the 2011 New York Football Giants. They began the season 6-2, but a 4-game losing streak pushed them to the brink of missing the playoffs for the third-straight year. After beating the Dallas Cowboys in a New Year’s Day showdown, the Giants won the NFC East and was slated to host the 5-seed Atlanta Falcons in the Wild Card Playoff. They dispatched the Falcons 24-2. The Giants next game was against the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. and like what happened the last time these two teams met in the Playoffs, the Giants stunned the Packers on their own turf, this time by a score of 37-20. In the NFC Championship game, the Giants faced the surprising San Francisco 49ers. After Kyle Williams got stripped of the ball for his 2nd turnover of the game, a Lawrence Tynes field goal sent the Giants to their 5th Super Bowl appearance. In Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, the AFC champion New England Patriots tried to put the ghosts of Super Bowl XLII to rest. It didn’t happen as the Giants won their 4th Super Bowl Championship, beating the Patriots, 21-17.  What all three of these teams have in common is they defied the odds. They made seeding seem irrelevant. Once the playoffs began, whoever’s the last team standing wins it all. These three teams won in an improbable fashion, and will be remembered for what they did when it mattered the most. That’s what the Los Angeles Kings were, and they deserve to wear their crown. Like Mike “Doc” Emrick said in the final moments of Game 6, “The Kings are THE Kings.”

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