What does a Stanley Cup Final series win look like?
Friday night, after nearly six full periods of play, it looked a little something like this:
It also looked like this:
Game 5 of this winner-take-all series was truly one for the books. With 94:43 of playing time, it became the longest game in LA Kings history. It marked Game 93 of this year’s playoffs, surpassing 1991’s single-year record of 92 playoff games. Dustin Brown became the first U.S.-born captain to win two Stanley Cups.
(On Friday the 13th. Under a full moon. In his 666th career game. But who’s counting?)
Staples Center was electric from the very beginning, and the LA Kings took the first lead of the game 6:04 into the first period with a goal by–who else?–Justin Williams, who would later go on to win the Conn Smythe trophy for being the MVP of the playoffs. Williams led all scorers in this series with 7 points in 5 games. He had a total of 25 points in 26 games through the entirety of the playoffs and boasted a +13 overall rating. Most importantly, he found ways to score when it mattered most. Mr. Game 7 lived up to his name on numerous occasions.
But the New York Rangers weren’t about to go down without a fight. They rallied late in the second with a power play tip-in goal by Chris Kreider at 15:37 and a shorthanded slapshot by Brian Boyle in the closing minute of the period. New York went into the second intermission up 2-1, and Kings fans tensed while Rangers fans let out a collective breath. This game was far from over, though. Marian Gaborik tied the game back up in the third for the Kings, putting in a wrist shot during an L.A. power play to even the score at 2-2, and Staples Center came back to life. No one was sitting down. No one was silent. This was a building that wanted nothing more than to taste victory.
It was just going to take a little while.
The score remained tied as the buzzer signaled the end of regulation, and Game 5 approached its first overtime, and then its second. The excitement continued to build for both teams as time and time again, players on both ends had some incredible opportunities to win the game. But, time and time again, Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick ensured that the game lived on. Viewers everywhere witnessed some of the best hockey of the entire season as the time ticked away and the Stanley Cup waited in the wings.
Several of the overtime games in these playoffs have ended with odd bounces. At the end of the day, a goal is a goal, but fluky goals somehow always feel cheap. Anticlimactic. Fortunately, that was not the case Friday night. Alec Martinez‘s (game-winning, series-winning, Cup-winning…take your pick) goal off a Tyler Toffoli rebound at 14:38 in 2OT was just pure and simple hockey. It was a goal that met the caliber of the rest of the game. It was a goal that gave the LA Kings a 3-2 victory and their second Stanley Cup in three seasons. It was a goal that caused Staples Center to erupt in cheers and the 2013-14 NHL season to come to a close.
“It came off [Lundqvist’s] pad pretty quick, and I just tried to get a stick on it and get it on net,” said Martinez. “I blacked out. I don’t really remember. I think I threw my gear…I just remember everyone coming at me, and I couldn’t breathe. It’s just a surreal moment. I’m just so happy for these guys.”
For one team, this season ended perfectly. For the other, well. Not so much.
“I knew going into this series it was going to end in tears,” said Lundqvist. “Tears of joy, or tears of heartbreak. It’s extremely tough.” And through all the ups-and-downs of this final, it’s safe to say that no other player on the ice put his heart and soul into the series as much as Lundqvist did.
“It’s got to be the worst feeling for a hockey player,” added Marc Staal. “You get this far, you do so much as a group, as a team, and then you fall short. I’ve never felt any worse.”
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said that he was “very proud of our group, very proud of their effort,” but with the loss still so raw in the post-game press conference, he said that he would need to wait a few days to reflect on the season’s outcome:
“You go into this hoping that you don’t regret anything. We put it out there. We gave our best shot, best effort. Three games here all went to overtime. What can I say?…I mean, it was a hard-fought game. Every inch on ice was contested real hard. You know, both teams were battling at an unreal level…Tough loss.”
Putting their post-game feelings into words was equally difficult for L.A., but for very different reasons. “There’s no words that can describe what you’re feeling right now,” said Williams. “What we went through this year makes it so much more special. Each Cup is unique, but god we earned this one.”
While the Rangers return to New York and go their separate ways for the offseason, the Kings will take turns showcasing the Stanley Cup at home and abroad. And with the NHL Awards coming up on June 24 and the NHL Draft on June 27, it’s not time to say goodbye to hockey for the summer just yet.
But from now until October, nobody can dethrone the Kings.