The longest postseason in NHL history, spanning a record 93 games, ended the only way it could – with its busiest team lifting the Stanley Cup after multiple overtimes in one of the year's most thrilling games and series. It took the Los Angeles Kings just over 1,676 minutes over 26 games to finish their Stanley Cup quest and claim hockey's top prize for the second time in three years, but every second of those hard minutes will have been worth it.
They defeated the New York Rangers in what may have been the closest series ever to end in five games with a double-overtime thriller. Alec Martinez scored the game winner with just 5:17 remaining in the second overtime period to hand the Kings their second Stanley Cup in three years thanks to a 3-2 win in Game 5.
The road was long and winding for the Kings and hardly ever easy. They faced elimination seven times over the last seven weeks and never relented.
It started right away in the first round when the Kings fell into a 3-0 series hole against the San Jose Sharks, but then became only the fourth team to overcome such a deficit to win a series. They got up 2-0 on the Anaheim Ducks in their second-round series, but lost three straight, requiring two more wins in desperate moments. After that, the Kings drew the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and saw a 3-1 series lead evaporate before winning the series in overtime in Game 7, again with a goal by Martinez.
The Kings became the first team in NHL history to win three consecutive Games 7 in a single postseason and had to do it all on the road. Finally, with home-ice advantage, they made things look easy by comparison, even though it really wasn't.
They took Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final in overtime, with results that were a bounce away from being very different and a series that could have changed in a heartbeat. But for the first time all postseason, the Kings were making the most of their opportunities, despite missing a series sweep by an eyelash in Game 4 in New York.
In many ways, Game 5 mirrored their entire postseason and its ups and downs. The Kings led 1-0 after the first period on a goal by Justin Williams and looked dominant times. Two late second-period goals gave the Rangers the lead back however after some lapses on the Kings' part. A fortuitous power play led to Marian Gaborik tying the game midway through the third and the Kings had to battle through yet another overtime and then most of the way through another.
Martinez ended the game after 94-plus minutes of utterly thrilling end-to-end action and a pair of breathtaking overtime periods.
Los Angeles played in seven overtime games and won five of them including the all-important Cup-clinching game. They overcame deficits throughout the playoffs, and fittingly did so once more in the third period when they trailed 2-1.
This is a team that battled for everything they got and made the most of the openings that were given to them. At stretches they looked dominant, while others showed the few cracks in their game and occasionally in their goaltender.
But when the Kings got close to the Cup, they took yet another difficult road, but by their own effort and talent were able to make it a little shorter than the rest.
When you consider the fact that the Kings have played a ton of hockey over the last three years, with many holdovers from the first Cup, you have to wonder how they aren't incredibly tired. Only one postseason round has not included the Kings over that span and they've played in 64 postseason contests, plus 212 regular-season games. Additionally six players participated in the Olympics this year.
Only two teams in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs played as many as the 26 games the Kings had to battle through to get the 16 wins required to claim the Cup. If they were tired -- and really who could have blamed them if they were -- it never showed.
This postseason showed just how incredible and deep this Kings team is. Justin Williams won the Conn Smythe Trophy, but no less than five Kings players had a good argument for claiming the prize.
There was the utter brilliance in two-way hockey that Anze Kopitar displayed throughout the postseason and led all players with 26 points. Drew Doughty logged major minutes and impacted every game he played in, mostly in a positive fashion. Jeff Carter had 25 points, including an assist on the Cup-clinching goal and scored 10 of his own. Marian Gaborik scored 14 goals to lead all players and just about every one of them was extremely meaningful.
There were contributions, big ones, from young players like Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson as well. Nine players had five or more goals, with only four players getting held scoreless over the postseason.
Jonathan Quick was not at his best over the postseason, but he seemed to rise to the occasion of the Stanley Cup Final. His save percentage was at .906 going into the final series, but he came out with a .911 mark. Quick put up a .932 save percentage in the five games of the Final, which should make his inconsistency in these playoffs a faded memory.
The Kings also had to use the entirety of their depth on defense. Outside of the top two pairings, the Kings' defense was a revolving door with Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene, Robyn Regehr and Jeff Schultz all finding ways into the lineup and contributing. All of them get involved in various situations and it ended up being Alec Martinez, who was in and out of the lineup all season, ending the whole thing with his OT winner.
Los Angeles won the Cup because they had the best total team, and it showed.
This was also another masterful effort from head coach Darryl Sutter. He shuffled lines when he needed to and always seemed to get the most out of his team. When Quick was stopping pucks, the rest of the group was scoring at a high level to keep the Kings moving forward. To get through a road as difficult as the Kings did, they needed a steady hand at the top and Sutter never wavered.
The Kings leaned on near-historic goal scoring to get to this point. They scored the most goals of any team in the postseason since the 1993 Los Angeles Kings led by Wayne Gretzky. That group ultimately fell to the Montreal Canadiens. The 2014 Kings put 87 pucks in the net over 25 games for a staggering average of nearly 3.5 goals per game.
It didn't matter if the Kings were playing with the lead or playing from behind. They were always a tough team to beat. It's hard enough for a team to be good at one of those things, but the Kings were both. There were very few times an opponent could feel comfortable because Los Angeles just never went away, but the Kings sure knew how to put the doubt in the teams trying to catch them.
Winning the Stanley Cup takes bumps and bruises, it takes sacrifice and hard work, it takes a little luck, and above all, it takes talent. The Kings had that, a lot of it.
But winning the Stanley Cup is never a guarantee for any player or team. There are plenty of talented players that never got their name on that most prized trophy. It has to be earned. Few teams have ever done more to earn the title than this year's Los Angeles Kings.