LOS ANGELES - It ended, once again, at home.
After becoming the first team to win three Game 7s, all on the road, in order to get to the Stanley Cup finals, the Los Angeles Kings were destined to finish their journey at home and hoist the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years in front of their fans.
Friday's 3-2 double-overtime win over the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals culminated a historic, improbable and altogether unpredictable title run that will forever serve as constant reminder to Kings fans that anything is possible and that the heart of a champion should never be questioned or doubted, regardless of the long odds that stand before them.
Of course, that's always easier said than done if you're a Kings fan.
Sometimes you need to see miracles more than a couple of times before you really believe they can happen.
Belief and confidence are still nouns new to the lexicon of die-hard Kings fans. You can always tell old-school Kings fans from a newer ones based on their faith that things will eventually work out for them no matter how dire the predicament. It's something old-school fans tried to hopelessly get comfortable with during this miraculous Stanley Cup-winning run, but the truth is many still didn't believe it would end like this until Dustin Brown hoisted the Stanley Cup over his head again.
That's what 45 years of mostly disappointment does to you as a fan. The footnotes to the greatest moments in Kings history before 2012 were littered with heartbreak.
The Miracle on Manchester in 1982? The Kings were eliminated in five games by the Vancouver Canucks in the next round.
The 1993 Kings who advanced to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in team history and were less than two minutes away from taking a 2-0 series lead? Marty McSorley's stick and let's just leave it at that.
The Frenzy on Figueroa in 2001? The Kings lost in the next round to the Colorado Avalanche in seven games.
Old-school Kings fans were always waiting for the other shoe to drop because it always did. "The Triple Crown Line" of Dave Taylor, Charlie Simmer and Marcel Dionne only made it out of the opening round once and missed the playoffs altogether three times. The Kings had the greatest player to ever step foot on the ice in Wayne Gretzky in the prime of his career for eight seasons and only made it out of the second round one time in 1993. In fact, before 2012, the Kings had made it out of the second round only one time in team history. And before 2010, they had missed the playoffs the previous seven seasons and in 12 of the 18 seasons after the 1993 run.
This group of Kings, however, has not only re-written NHL history but also has redefined what it means to be a Kings fan. No deficit or dire predicament is too great for this team to overcome. When the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, they did so as a No. 8 seed, becoming the first 8-seed in North American professional sports to win a championship. In fact, they lost their last two regular-season games and barely hung on for the last playoff seed before going on to become only the second team to eliminate the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the same postseason.
And this season, the Kings became the fourth team in history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit in the first round to defeat the San Jose Sharks, became the first team to lose three straight games in back-to-back series before beating the Anaheim Ducks and the first team to advance to the Stanley Cup finals after winning three consecutive Game 7s, all on the road. Their resiliency was showcased during a three-game stretch from Game 7 of the Western Conference finals through the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals where they fell behind by two goals in the first period of each of games before eventually winning in overtime, never once leading before the eventual winning goal. No team had ever won three straight playoff games when trailing by at least two goals.
It has been an amazing reversal of fortune for long-suffering Kings fans who have always remained loyal to their team. They are outliers in a city known for being fair-weathered and fickle when it comes to its sports teams. They are far from your clichéd L.A. sports fans who arrive to games late, leave early and believe their team is entitled to a championship regardless of who is on the roster.
They get to downtown two hours before game time, stay two hours afterward and never truly think a game is in hand until the final horn. Oh, and when the Kings come back home with a trophy on their plane, thousands of fans gather to greet them at the airport in the middle of the night.
It's the kind of bond between a team and its fans you might experience in a smaller market but has always separated Kings fans from their peers in this city.
Ask the bartenders at L.A. Live and the ushers at Staples Center who the most rabid, loyal and altogether crazy fans in Los Angeles are, and they will tell you it's Kings fans before you can even finish your question.
Los Angeles has proven that you don't necessarily need to be a "hockey town" to have great hockey fans.
They have experienced enough disappointment over the years to appreciate what the last three years have meant. Sometimes you don't realize the good old days were the good old days until they're over but that's not the case with Kings fans. They realize what's happening right now is special and no matter what happens in the future, they'll always have this moment.