Monday, July 23, 2012

Only In Hockey

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

As the NHL prepares for a potential lockout this fall, we must not forget what happened on June 11, 2012.

The Los Angeles Kings completed their improbable ride through the Stanley Cup Playoffs winning their first NHL title since the team began play in 1967. LA's first championship in its 45-year history was a 6-1 rout of the New Jersey Devils.

Over the years, I've seen teams in all sports reach the finals with records under .500, but these Los Angleles Kings made a different type of history.

One must look deep into their regular season record of 40-27-15 with 95 points.

They changed coaches and fired head coach Terry Murray, he was replaced by interim coach John Stevens, then on December 20, 2011, Darryl Sutter was named 24th head coach in franchise history.

The NHL standings are wins, losses and overtime losses. In the real world, the Kings would be 40-42.

But not for the sport that is played on a Frozen Pond.

The Kings entered the playoffs third in their division behind first place Phoenix 42-27-13 with 97 points. San Jose was 43-29-10 with 96 points.

The Kings earned their way to the Stanley Cup Finals with 10-straight road wins and 12 over two seasons which are both NHL records. LA's road winning streak ended as New Jersey defeated the Kings 2-1, on June 9, 2012.

All it takes in Hockey is a hot goaltender and Jonathan Douglas Quick, who was born on January 21, 1986 was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The 26-year old native of Milford, CT, has a regular season record of 131-87 and playoff mark of 20-12, including a 16-4 mark in this years post-season.

This kid defeated No.1 seed Vancouver (51-22-9, 111), No.2 seed St.Louis (49-22-11, 109) and No.3 Phoenix, all of which were division winners. On June 28, 2012, Quick agreed in principal to a 10-year contract that will keep him in Southern California until the 2023 season.

There is no way that I will ever down play this team's success. It's hard to believe that they were the final Winter Sports LA team standing since there were high hopes for their Staples Center neighbors the Lakers and Clippers.

Before their series started with the Devils, I predicted they would leave New Jersey with a 2-0 lead and indeed, the Kings did against their No.6 seeded counterparts, who were 48-28-6 with 102 points

Los Angeles 4-2 series win against the Devils came against future Hall Of Fame Goaltender Martin Brodeur, who has led New Jersey to three Stanley Cup Titles.

The Kings win over the Devils was the first time ever that an eighth seeded team in North American Professional Sports won a championship.

Los Angeles was the second team in NHL history to beat the top three conference seeds in the playoffs.

The 2004 Calgary Flames did it under Darryl Sutter, but LA was the first eigtth seeded team to accomplish that feet. Sutter was 25-13-11 (25-24) when he took over the Kings.

But this is a sport which its storied franchise is the Montreal Canadiens.

Montreal hasn't won a championship since Jacques Demers was coach and Patrick Roy was the goaltender in 1993.

The Canadiens finished in last place in the Northeast Division with a 31-35-16, and 78 points, translating to an actual 31-51 mark. It may be awhile before Montreal wins Championship No.25.

Rival Toronto finished two points ahead of Montreal with 80, posting a 35-37-10 mark which is actually 35-47.

Montreal's record was the worst in the Eastern Conference and the third worst in the NHL.

Only the Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets finished lower.

Since Montreal's last Stanley Cup Championship, the following teams have won titles: New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche, Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins. Now the Los Angeles Kings.

Ex Canadiens have figured in these teams success.

Former Montreal Coach Scotty Bowman piloted Detroit to three titles. Roy won a championship in Denver before Broncos legend John Elway won a Super Bowl in the Mile High City.

I wouldn't classify Colorado, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Anaheim as hockey hotbeads. Nor will I consider Los Angeles as a Hockey Town.

But I will say the Kings are champions and they won their title without Hall of Fame players Wayne Gretzky and Marcel Dionne, albeit with an under .500 mark.

With the parity in the NHL, don't be surprised if the Blues, Coyotes, Florida Panthers or Nashville Predators are in the finals. Nashville's task got much tougher as the smaller market club lost many key players due to free agency.

If Montreal or Toronto get to the Stanley Cup Finals, then the ratings could be a good boom for NBC across North America.

NBC may not like it, but "Only In Hockey" can a points standings set-up produce such intrigue as we've seen year in and year out.

But, I guarantee you one thing. There will be NO ASTERISK next to the LA Kings title. They made history for all of the most unique reasons.

Now we'll see if new NHLPA Donald Fehr lets them defend their title. In 1994, under Fehr's leadership, the World Series was canclled for the first time in baseball history.

In 2004, the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning held their title for two years, but the second year it collected dust since there was no regular season.

My message to hockey fans is Fear the Fehr because the Stanley Cup Trophy could be residing in Hollywood, CA longer than a year. Enjoy It LA! You won it the hard way by being full fledged road warriors.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com.

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