LOS ANGELES -- The foundation for the Los Angeles Kings' historical, magical and altogether unexplainable playoff run was built on the road, but it was apparently always destined to end at home.
As much fun as these "Road Warriors" had quieting opposing fans from Vancouver's North Shore to the Jersey Shore en route to the Kings' winning a record 10 straight playoff road games and 12 straight dating to last season, their final stop had to be in Los Angeles and everyone in the team's dressing room knew it before Game 6 Monday night.
"I don't know what 45 years of pent-up energy sounds like," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "But if we play our game, maybe we'll find out."
After suffering consecutive losses for the first time since early April, the Kings did play their game and responded with a 6-1 victory and their first Stanley Cup title. And when it was over Brown and his teammates got to hear exactly what 45 years of pent-up energy sounded like.
They had seemingly been programmed before the playoffs began two months ago to treat each game as a single entity, completely unconnected to the last and next one played. Questions about winning streaks and records were greeted with inquisitive looks by players and coaches as if they had no idea the historical run they were on. Taking it one game at a time wasn't simply a cliché, it was their mantra.
On Monday night, one game at a time finally materialized into one game and their time.
This was the moment every one of them had dreamed about. Brown, who became only the second U.S.-born captain to hoist the Stanley Cup, had replayed the scene in his head over and over again ever since he laced up his first skates in Ithaca, N.Y. The same was true for Jonathan Quick in Milford, Conn., Drew Doughty in London, Ontario, and Anze Kopitar in Jesenice, Slovenia. They had all dreamed of raising the Stanley Cup above their heads and kissing the center ring as they took a lap around the ice.
As they handed Lord Stanley's Cup down the line, from one player to the next, the significance of winning it on their home ice and in front of their home fans was not lost on the players.
They knew this moment -- the first Stanley Cup win in the franchise's 45-year history -- was bigger than them. They knew the biggest win this team has ever enjoyed was for more than the 30 or so names that will eventually be etched onto the cup.
It was for The Jet, The Entertainer, Cowboy, Whitey and Frenchy. It was for Marcel, Dave, Charlie, Butch and Rogie. It was for Wayne, Luc, Marty, Bernie and Kelly. It was for Rob, Ziggy, Lappy, Jamie and Deadmarsh. And it was for Nick, Daryl, Bob and Jim, who cried when the game was over.
It was for every King who ever wore the old Forum Blue and Gold, Silver and Black and those Purple, Black and White sweaters in between.
It was for every long-suffering Kings fans who drove to the corner of Prairie and Manchester to watch a game at the Fabulous Forum and for the 18,858 fans who packed Staples Center on Monday night and the thousands more who made L.A. Live and Chick Hearn Court a sea of silver and black two hours before the first puck drop to watch the game on television.
Before this Cinderella run, the only other time the Kings made it past the second round of the playoffs was in 1993. Back then, the Kings advanced to the Stanley Cup finals before losing to the Montreal Canadiens in five games. The Kings were led by the best player in the world in Wayne Gretzky, an up-and-coming coach in Barry Melrose and backed by an owner with presumably deep pockets in Bruce McNall. Most thought it was the beginning of a hockey renaissance in Los Angeles.
"I just remember flying back from Montreal with the series tied 1-1, Bruce McNall was on the plane, laughing, telling jokes and having fun," said Bob Miller, the Kings' longtime play-by-play man. "I remember thinking in my mind, 'Finally, after all these years, this team is headed in the right direction. We're going to have a chance to win year after year.' "
Of course, Miller and everyone else would soon find out that McNall's empire was a house of cards that would topple mere months after the Kings lost. McNall pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy and fraud, and admitted to defrauding six banks out of $236 million over a 10-year period. He was sentenced to 70 months in prison, and by 1995 the Kings were forced into bankruptcy.
Those days are as distant a memory now as the Kings' seven consecutive seasons without a playoff berth, from 2002 to 2009. Not only are the Kings owned by Phillip Anschutz, one of the richest people in the world (he has a net worth of $7 billion, according to Forbes), but the Kings announced last week a $250 million television rights deal with Fox Sports that will go a long way toward insuring the core group of this team stays intact for the long-term this time.
Not only do the Kings have a solid core largely built the old-fashioned way, through the draft (13 players) and trades (8), but their key players are just now reaching the prime of their careers. Players such as Brown (age 27), Kopitar (24), Doughty (22) and Quick (26) are just beginning to realize their potential, which has to be a scary thought for the rest of the NHL after the run the Kings just had. They are complemented by Mike Richards (27), Jeff Carter (27), Dustin Penner (29), Dwight King (22), Trevor Lewis (25), Brad Richardson (27), Colin Fraser (27), Jordan Nolan (22), Slava Voynov (22), Matt Greene (29) and Alec Martinez (24), who make up one of the three youngest teams in the NHL.
After Monday night, they are not only one of the league's youngest teams, they are the league's best team and will go down as one of the greatest postseason teams in NHL history. Their 16-4 record in the playoffs is second only to the 1988 Edmonton Oilers, and their journey from No. 8 seed to champions is unprecedented in professional sports.
It may have taken Miller and long-suffering Kings fans longer than expected, but they are finally Stanley Cup champions. And as Miller had hoped nearly 20 years ago on that plane ride back from Montreal, they finally have a team headed in the right direction with a chance to win year after year.