Kings Prove Hockey's Royalty
Trying to convince others of hockey’s superiority is about as close to an exercise in futility as one can get. Although the game is capable of seducing fans who did not grow up on the ice, prying people away from their Final Four brackets will involve some kicking and screaming. The absolute heroism of the Los Angeles Kings during this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs is a story that should go down as one of the most impressive in modern athleticism.
I’ll have to paraphrase the following point, but I was made aware of a staggering statistic regarding upsets in professional sports. In the NHL, an eighth seed will defeat a first seed approximately 25% percent of the time. In other sports, this, or the equivalent, will happen around 5% of the time. Translate that to mean this: Hockey is clearly more unpredictable, and since unpredictability is a parent of excitement, no sport can match the excitement that hockey offers.
No one in the universe, picked Los Angeles to win the Stanley Cup. No one. But it happened. Los Angeles defeated the tempestuous and highly skilled Vancouver Canucks in the first round, four games to one. They SWEPT the grinding thugs from St. Louis, a second seed, and sucked the blood out of a Phoenix team full of heart, again, four games to one. Last night, the Kings completed this triumphant run by routing the New Jersey Devils, four games to two. This kind of domination from a team with thirteen more wins than losses during the regular season, is unprecedented.
How did this happen? Why did this happen? One is tempted to answer this question in the way that many people answer inquiries regarding the perplexing nature of this game: A shrug of the shoulders, coupled with, “that’s hockey.”
I’m satisfied with this answer, and if you are reading this, then you probably are as well. Again, those who spent years at the rink and blasting pucks in the driveway, understand that hockey is difficult to understand. But this answer might not satisfy others. Even though I don’t care for Wayne Gretzky personally, as a hockey mind, he is “The Great One.” Hockey, Gretzky said, is “a game of mistakes.” A broken stick, a rut in the ice, a goalie in the zone, a missed call, an eighth seed getting hot at the right time; these are the ingredients that make or break a run to Stanley Cup glory.
The Kings embraced team play from top to bottom. They have shown that a group, with few star players, can turn opposing juggernauts into cockroaches. Jonathan Quick, the Kings’ calculating goaltender, has now established himself as one of the premier goalies in the NHL. A Conn Smythe Trophy, as the MVP of the playoffs, to go along with his name on the Cup, thrusts Quick to the head of the pack of NHL goalies. Netminders either seem to be borderline psychotic, or resembling androids. Quicks fits the latter description. It seems that the unassuming young man from Connecticut was programmed to stop pucks, with a negligible margin of error.
Anze Kopitar, one of two Slovenian born players in the NHL, is a horse who can dance. How a player coming from a country with less than TEN rinks in it (that’s a fact you can check) is the scoring co-champion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, is beyond me. Everyone knows that Kopitar is a good player. His Stanley Cup ring now proves he is a great player. He has been compared to Jean Beliveau, but players who reach greatness play like themselves, not like others.
During last night’s locker room celebration, LA’s head coach, Darryl Sutter, constantly doing his best John Wayne impression, told reporters: “If you get in (the playoffs)....you can win.” Very true. The crapshoot-like side of hockey was made clear during this year's playoffs. But another side of hockey was shown. Hockey is a TEAM sport. Skaters do not win Cups. Goalies do not win Cups. Coaches do not win Cups. Teams do. The Kings put the team ahead of themselves in a way that no other team has in a long time. The Cup is going to Hollywood because of it. Congrats to the Los Angeles Kings, the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions.
An afterthought: Dustin Brown's line (that's why we f***in play) will endear him to fans across North America. That remark is as real as it gets.
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