With respect to the weightier political and social tie-ins, the 2012 run was Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, the 2014 run Picasso’s Guernica. In 2012, the LA Kings enjoyed five, six and seven full days off between series and needed no more than the minimum six defensemen; in 2014, they had two days off after completing the historic comeback against San Jose, one day off after Anaheim, and after playing seven consecutive games against the Ducks and Blackhawks with Jeff Schultz averaging almost 19 minutes, two days off before opening the Stanley Cup Final.
How did they live through 26 games? How did you? How did you not BARF CRY BARF yourself into insanity?
Because the payoff was that good. Because that group of cockroaches went 7-0 in elimination games, serving up an extended release of cathartic juju after epochs of managerial misfortune, missed opportunity and some outright terrible half-decades. Because nothing in hockey ever comes that easily and 2012 might have been a mirage. What more as a Kings fan could you ask for than erasing a three-nothing deficit against San Jose, winning a Game 7 on the road against arch-rival Anaheim and after emerging from a dynastic, heavyweight battle with Chicago, winning the Stanley Cup in double overtime on home ice? First presented on June 11, the Cup runneth over on June 13.
A fairy-tale feast of Kings fans’ wildest desires, the run that concluded five years ago today was foretold by Conan the Barbarian. What is best in life? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women! Such talismans of victory will resonate long beyond today. The Shark Cage. Joe Thornton’s stunned look. He’s the best goalie I’ve ever seen. Corey Perry laughably forging his way to a penalty shot that was snuffed out by Jonathan Quick’s jab. Fly at 11. Rebounding from surrendering a 3-1 series lead and falling behind 2-0 in the first period to the Blackhawks – the mid-2010 Blackhawks! – before winning a classic knockout in overtime. These are your spoils of war. Justin Williams. Dustin Brown. Marian Gaborik. Alec Martinez.
Such parity and unpredictability and flat out good fortune shone again this spring. The St. Louis Blues were in last place on January 3. The Tampa Bay Lightning finished 30 points higher than the team that swept them out of the first round. A Conn Smyth Trophy candidate had appeared in 164 AHL games and all of 82 minutes of NHL action when he made his first career start on January 7.
The Blues’ organic cultural tie-in was, obscurely, Laura Branigan’s Gloria. Didn’t see that coming, and that’s the beauty of how such zeitgeist virally spreads. The Kings that spring banked on That 70 Line. While St. Louis’ rallying anthem was spurred by the timeless tradition of popping a few back with your teammates at a Philadelphia bar, Los Angeles’ metastasized by virtue of its fanbase and linked up with Darryl Sutter’s decision to flank Jeff Carter with a pair of rookies, all of whom wore greasy numbers. More specifically, it was enhanced by The Royal Half, whose writings and testimonials provided an appropriate score and welcome levity to the postseason marathon. You adopted BARF CRY BARF. You changed your lock screens for Game 7s to honor Justin Williams, hockey’s winner-take-all Jedi, and in doing so, you inserted yourself into the story and how it was told.
And before we let TRH’s head get too big – he did also popularize #IsItMidAprilYet the following September, which infuriated the Hockey Gods and should be held against him – if there’s something that a Stanley Cup represents, it’s the unabbreviated buy-in from all corners of the organization. It’s built and maintained by the players – let’s be honest here, this is earned through their blood and broken bones. But it’s also supported and enlivened by the coaches, the trainers, the staff, the fans, the ticket sellers and public relations coordinators and marketing managers, ushers, security guards and bloggers. A championship culture spawns championships, and the experience gained from 2012 and applied and executed in 2014 – bound together through a training camp, a grueling regular season, an Olympic excursion and 26 exhausting episodes spurred, prodded and gamed by the demanding Darryl Sutter – are why there are two important anniversaries to commemorate, not just one. For that, the 2013-14 LA Kings earned and willed their way to one of the greatest climaxes in the history of the sport.
“We weren’t going back to New York.”