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HELENE ELLIOTT / ON THE NHL

Los Angeles Kings, Stanley Cup champions? Say it, and believe it

It's a sea change in Kings history: 45 years of bitter disappointment and bad memories consigned to the deep. None of that matters anymore. Strange and surreal as it sounds, they really are NHL champs.

June 13, 2012|Helene Elliott
  • Captain Dustin Brown celebrates the Kings' Stanley Cup victory over the New Jersey Devils in front of thousands of jubilant fans at Staples Center on Monday.
Captain Dustin Brown celebrates the Kings' Stanley Cup victory over… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Finally, the Kings have something bigger to celebrate than their 1982 Miracle on Manchester playoff comeback.

A lot more to boast about than winning the Smythe Division title in 1991 and the Campbell Conference championship in 1993.

Over the last two months they created enough splendid playoff memories to forget about collapses and chaos and illegally curved sticks and shifting blame for everything that went wrong every year no matter how much optimism they carried into any given season.

The Kings are Stanley Cup champions. And after watching this team for the better part of two decades — though not nearly as long as many die-hards — there is no way to express how surreal it is to write those words in that order while sober.

Let's bury that curved stick somewhere at sea and with it dump all the angst and bitterness of 45 years of striving but failing, of building around veterans then reversing course to emphasize youth and then starting all over again. They finally got it right, starting with Dave Taylor as the general manager who put the core players in place and finished off by Dean Lombardi, who applied the necessary final touches.

Consign to the deep all the regrets over the long-ago policy of trading first-round draft picks that became other teams' Hall of Fame players for veterans who had little long-term impact. They drafted well and used trades and free agency to fill holes they couldn't plug from within, the only sound strategy in a salary-cap era.

Push aside the sadness that the powerful Bob Pulford-coached teams always encountered a playoff roadblock and never advanced as far as they should have. Honor that memory, but don't agonize over it anymore.

It matters less now that Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh could not carry the Kings to the promised land a decade ago, the club's last playoff hurrah before its historic run this spring as the No. 8-seeded team in the West.

The only reasonable regret is that Luc Robitaille was in a businessman's suit instead of a uniform when they won the Cup on Monday because he meant so much to the Kings and to fans who watched him grow up and mature into a man and a Hall of Fame winger. He was and is one of their own, and it was unspeakably sad that he had to leave to win a title with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002.

But even that shouldn't sting so much anymore. He returned to become the Kings' president of business operations and his name will be engraved on the Cup as a King, as it should be.

There should be no more laments, not after this dizzying ascent.

Only four seasons ago, in 2007-08, the Kings were so hapless in net that they deployed seven goalies over 82 games. One of those goalies was a sleepy kid whose questionable work ethic led management to demote him to the low-level East Coast Hockey League.

Jonathan Quick is no sleepy kid anymore. Now 26, he was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goalie this season and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. His 1.41 postseason goals-against average was a record for goalies who played a minimum of 15 games, as was his save percentage of .946. He also set a league record by winning 12 straight road playoff games over two seasons.

He didn't do it alone, but he was a singular factor in an extraordinary finish.

Remember, this team ranked 11th in the West when Darryl Sutter took over as coach in December. It is No. 1 now.

"At our lowest moments I think the biggest thing is nobody ever turned on someone else. Everybody stuck with it," Quick said. "You'd go through five-, six-game losing streaks, whatever it was, you know, and guys are still encouraging, still competing in practice.

"You just can't say enough about the resiliency it took to get through those times during the season and still make the playoffs."

They went beyond that to make history, and a team that had so little to brag about now owns hockey's ultimate prize. The Kings are the 2012 Stanley Cup champions. Say it often enough and it becomes more real.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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