Future looks bright for Los Angeles Kings after gruelling Stanley Cup run
Saturday, Jun 14, 2014 04:00 am
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Kings defenceman Drew Doughty called it, according to coach Darryl Sutter.
"Drew told me he was going to win two in one year," a smiling Sutter said after his Los Angeles team won its second Stanley Cup in three seasons. "He said that. He said he was going to win the (Olympic) gold medal and win the Stanley Cup.
"I think he told me two or three times," he added.
Doughty, who along with Kings forward Jeff Carter was a big part of Canada's golden run in Sochi, may have predicted the outcome but hardly the manner of Los Angeles' latest assault on the Cup.
In climbing hockey's Mount Everest, the Kings did it by ascending the longest, most difficult face.
Talent and hard work combined with unshakable self-belief and indomitable spirit in a gruelling 26-game playoff campaign that concluded with a 3-2 double-overtime thriller over the New York Rangers in Game 5 Friday night.
"We all believe in everybody in that room," Carter said. "We know what it takes to win and we know if we play our game we'll be successful."
Said Sutter: "Nobody is ever out of it. Keep plugging away and make a big play to tie it, make a big play to win it."
The Kings live by that credo.
"When teams play against us and say that man, these guys compete, they play hard, we battle for every puck. Yeah, to win four out of seven against these guys is going to take a lot," captain Dustin Brown said earlier in the final. "If other teams are saying that, or people from the outside are kind of giving us that label, it means we are doing a lot of right things here."
And the future looks golden for Los Angeles, run by savvy GM Dean Lombardi. Most of the roster is under contract, for a while.
Sniper Marian Gaborik, acquired in March from Columbus to boost the Kings offence, is an unrestricted free agent but surely has found a home on the West Coast.
Veteran defencemen Willie Mitchell (37) and Matt Greene (31) are also unrestricted free agents while forward Dwight King (24) is a restricted free agent.
The spine of the team — goalie Jonathan Quick, Doughty, and forwards Brown, Carter and Anze Kopitar — is on long-term deals although Kopitar is a UFA in 2016-17.
Justin Williams, chosen Conn Smythe Trophy winner, spoke warmly about the Kings GM in the wake of the Cup win.
"Dean Lombardi has given me a great opportunity here," said the former Flyer and Hurricane forward, acquired by L.A. from Carolina for Patrick O'Sullivan and a 2009 second-round draft pick.
"He saw somebody, a player that not a lot of people saw. He gave me a chance, he gave me another opportunity, where my career wasn't going the way I wanted it to. I was able to be a piece of this puzzle, the team that he built. I'm privileged to play on this team with all the great players."
Williams' teammates point to his tenacity — a Kings trademark — and competitiveness on the ice.
"Our best right-winger every night consistently," said Sutter.
Despite the limitations of the salary cap era, Lombardi managed to keep his 2012 roster intact. Seventeen of the 22 Kings players who appeared in a playoff game during their run to the 2012 title are now champions again.
Many of those players remember not so long ago when the Kings weren't winning.
"It was a frustrating time," said Doughty. "It sucked coming to the rink. You're losing games, you're on losing streaks. To finally turn that around and now come to the rink happy, knowing that you have a chance to win every night — confident you're going to win every night. It's a good feeling.
"Dean did a great job, putting this team together. We want to stay together as a team. We feel very comfortable with this team."
Carter was another Lombardi acquisition, picked up from Columbus before the 2012 trade deadline. He went on to score four goals in the Cup final that year against the New Jersey Devils, including the overtime winner in Game 2 and the Cup-clinching goal in Game 6.
Buoyed by his role in Team Canada, Carter is a powerful, elite player who must surely strike fear in defenders as he swoops into their zone.
The Kings credited Carter for helping bring the best out of young linemates Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. The so-called That Seventies line was a force in the final.
Brown reclaimed his place on the Kings' top line, responding with a playoff-leading 125 hits, not to mention the double overtime winner in Game 2.
"Opponents don't like playing against him because he hits so hard and at the same time he can make plays and score goals," Doughty said earlier in the series. "When I played against him at the Olympics, basically whenever I had the puck, he was on the ice, I was trying to get rid of it so he couldn't run me.
"Great captain, great leader."
While many champions talk of team chemistry, the Kings clearly have it in spades. When Gaborik was acquired, Carter put him up in his home so he would not have to spend time in a hotel. Mike Richards took time to show him around while Kopitar also put out the welcome mat.
"Those guys really helped me out," Gaborik said. "You could tell that this team has a great locker-room."
The Slovakian sniper clearly likes his new surroundings.
"We have four centres that maybe on another team would be top two centres," he said of Kopitar, Carter, Richards and Jarret Stoll. "And we roll four lines and have great depth with great goaltending."
And a great coach.
Sutter said he obsessed during the Olympic break on one thing: "How are we going to beat Chicago? How are we going to beat Chicago?
"Dean got Gaborik. We were able to put some kids in, go from there," he said.
It was more complicated than that.
Fiercely loyal to his players, Sutter also knows how to get the best of them. He won't say much to the media, leaving scribes to wonder what is going on under his largely inexpressive face.
"Darryl lets me play no matter what the circumstances are. Just lets me go out there and do my thing," Doughty said after Game 1 of the final.
"I try to do the same things in the regular season. I try to jump in the offence, put points up. Sometimes it just doesn't go that way."
While Sutter clearly cares for his players, that can lead to some tough love.
"I can remember one time, way back in the day (at a game) in Minnesota he put me on forward because he thought I was jumping in too much," Doughty said during an off-day in the final.
"To show me a point, he threw me up on forward for a shift. That made me not too happy obviously, so I learned from there that I had to listen to what he said if I wanted to play."
Sutter told Doughty he had done the same thing to Chris Chelios, who scored during his brief stint as a forward.
The smooth-skating Doughty proved to be exciting at both ends of the rink. Fortunately for the Kings, he did more damage in the offensive zone by breaking his own club record for playoffs points (16) by a defenceman. He ended up with five goals and 13 assists.
Doughty and Carter join the New York Islanders' Ken Morrow (U.S., 1980), Detroit's Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan (Canada, 2002) and Chicago's Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews (Canada, 2010) in winning the Olympic and Stanley Cup double.
"It's been a wild year," Carter said simply.
While his players celebrated on the Staples Center ice, sharing the Cup with friends and family, a relaxed Sutter watched surrounded by his own family.
"Good series, great for hockey," he told a pair of reporters.
And good on him and the Kings.
Spare a moment for the Rangers in a final where four of the five games were decided by one goal, including three in overtime. The NHL says the Kings and Rangers were tied or separated by one goal for 85.4 per cent of the playing time in the final.
NOTES — NBC said Friday's game averaged 6.0 million viewers, making it the most-watched Game 5 of the Cup final in the U.S. since the triple-overtime contest in 2008 between Pittsburgh and Detroit.