When a friend of mine and I were previewing the NHL playoffs, I described the first round series between the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings as a classic ‘David vs. Goliath’ matchup. Two months later, I can say rather matter-of-factly I was right.
I just had the wrong team pegged as the goliath.
You see, with last night’s 6-1 victory at home over the New Jersey Devils, the Kings capped off the most improbable of Stanley Cup runs. But it’s improbability is twofold. First, there is the obvious part: the run itself. To knock off the top two seeds in your conference and then continue right on into June as the #8 seed in the bracket is unlikely to say the least. But the second part, the part even MORE improbable (and teetering on the edge of IMPOSSIBLE) is HOW they made their push through these Stanley Cup playoffs.
First, L.A. disposed of the best team in the regular season in five games. Then, they swept the best goaltending team in their conference if not the league altogether. After that, they put down the Coyotes and Devils in equally dominating fashion.
In each of these series, the Kings jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Round by round, when that Game 4 came around, the series was already over and Los Angeles’ opponents were doing little more than circling the drain. THAT is why they were the goliath this spring.
In fact, by stealing two games before being finished off out west, the Devils ended up putting up the best fight of any team Los Angeles played. Think about how lopsided THIS final series felt and consider the fact that I’m telling you that it was the closest anyone came to competing with this team. Scary, right?
But, despite how they played, the Kings championship run IS an underdog story. In May, absolutely no one was talking about this team. We were too consumed with the powerful Canucks and Rangers. We were too distracted with the drama-filled Capitals and flashy Penguins. We gave no love to L.A. and, in turn, they showed their opponents no mercy.
And the underdog undertones aren’t just confined to this sport. The Kings are an underdog in their OWN city. One of the largest markets in the country and lacking and NFL team, you’d think there is plenty of adulation to go around. But between the Lakers, Dodgers, and themselves, I think it’s fair to say the hockey representatives of the city of angels were a distant third.
That, of course, has all changed now. L.A. is a sports city that loves championships. Hell, when the Lakers collect another title, they’re even willing to light whole sections of the town on fire (I guess it’s some sort of drunken ritual sacrifice). So by adding the city’s first ever professional hockey crown and bringing Lord Stanley home to the epicenter of sun burns and plastic surgery, the Kings have ensured a nice-sized space in the hearts of the town’s diehard sports fans.
The one very un-Los Angeles aspect of the Kings, however, is their facelessness. The Lakers have Kobe. The Dodgers have Kemp and Kershaw. The Kings have…Jonathan Quick and Dustin Brown? Both are excellent pro athletes, to be sure, but how many now following the rise of this team can honestly say they knew who these men were just weeks ago. To be honest, there’s not many of you.
In fact, Jonathan Quick, this year’s MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs, is perhaps the exact opposite of a big time celebrity. Quiet, introverted, and a master at perfecting his craft, Quick embodied a wall in more ways than one. On the ice, however, his .946 save percentage and 1.41 GAA will serve as adequate evidence of this metaphor.
His goaltending wasn’t just good on a historic level, it led the charge in bringing one of the most demanding sports fan bases the perfect present: Lord Stanley himself. Highlighting the amount of parity in today’s NHL and exploiting the hubris of the game’s so-called elite squads, the Kings reminded us that professional playoffs truly ARE unpredictable. But they also reminded us of the definition of a dark horse. A dark horse is not the less-successful team we THINK has potential, it is the neglected squad we KNOW we’ve written off.
So are we simply spectators to one of this year’s best sports stories, or are we no different than the Canucks or Coyotes: another group bludgeoned and blindsided by one of the most dominating runs in Stanley Cups playoff history? I’m starting to think we’re the latter.