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As for Kings' ups and downs, he's been there

While the NHL team readies for the Stanley Cup Final, a longtime loyalist savors their postseason run and keeps hoping — but with a sense of history.

May 26, 2012|By Hans Tesselaar
  • A Kings fan cheers after Dwight King scored the winning goal in the third period to beat the Coyotes in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Western Conference finals.
A Kings fan cheers after Dwight King scored the winning goal in the third… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

When the Kings played at the Forum in the late 1980s and early '90s, there was an elderly vendor who would set the tone for most games with his sales pitch.

"Peanuts, peanuts, peanuts," he'd bark out in a split second. "Get your peanuts. Three hours of torture coming up."

He knew. Anyone who has ever claimed to be a Kings fan knows.

If you're new to this and ready to invest yourself in the fortunes of the Kings over the next two weeks, be prepared. You may just get poked in the gut by a stick, perhaps even an illegally curved one.

I have been asked often these last few weeks if I've enjoyed the Kings' incredible playoff run, which has them in the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in team history.

Sure I have. But that other skate is going to drop at any time, right?

Teams just don't go unbeaten on the road in the first three rounds and 12-2 overall while pursuing the most cherished trophy in sports, do they? At least not teams called the Kings. The Penguins, the Red Wings, the Oilers of the 1980s, the four-Cups-in-a-row Islanders, yes.

The Kings? Until I see one of their team captains (paging Dustin Brown) lift the Cup, I won't be fully able to appreciate the journey.

It's a defense mechanism that any long-suffering fan of any long-suffering team would understand. Ask Red Sox fans pre-2004 and New York Rangers fans pre-1994.

This madness started in 1975 when I was 12 and my father took me to the Forum to see the Kings play the mighty Montreal Canadiens.

It was a classic game between teams challenging for the Norris Division title. A few days later, the cover of Sports Illustrated featured Kings goalie Rogie Vachon with the headline "The L.A. Kings Go for a Crown."

The Kings lost the game and finished second to Montreal. But their 105 points were the fourth-highest total in the league and their first-round playoff opponent, the Toronto Maple Leafs, had only 78 points and a losing record.

Do you need to ask who won the best-of-three series?

Since their inception in the 1967-68 season, the Kings have won 14 playoff series. They have won one division title and now two conference championships.

Kings fans are a loyal lot. We have put up with the thousands of visiting fans who have invaded the Forum and now Staples Center, ranging from the obnoxious (Red Wings fans), to the really obnoxious (Rangers/Flyers/Bruins fans), to the off-the-charts obnoxious (Canucks fans).

We sign up year after year hoping and dreaming of the moment when the Cup is ours. And somewhat shockingly, it might actually happen this time.

Then again it might not.

Not that it's been all bad. We've gotten to watch Hall of Famers like Marcel Dionne, Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille wear Kings sweaters. But none of them, as hard as they tried, could win the Cup as Kings.

We have watched some of our favorites win it all — in other cities. Butch Goring, Robitaille, Rob Blake.

Even worse, we've had to watch other cities who've been in the league for a lot less time (Carolina, Tampa Bay, Colorado) host parades. And the ultimate horror occurred in 2007 when the Ducks (THE DUCKS!) won the Cup.

Last year I saw a license plate frame that nearly caused me to give up following the sport. It read "Stanley Cups, Ducks 1, Kings 0."

That frame might never have come about had the late Pat Burns made a gutsy decision in 1993. In the last minute of Game 7 of the conference finals, the Kings had a one-goal lead in Toronto.

Burns, the coach of the Maple Leafs, had suspicions that the Kings' Marty McSorley was using a stick that was curved too much. He thought of asking the officials to check the stick. If the blade was too wide, the Kings would be penalized. If it was a legal stick, the Maple Leafs would lose a man.

Burns didn't want to risk it. If only he had. Maybe the Kings would have survived the penalty in that game. For sure, McSorley wouldn't have used the stick in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final in Montreal.

But he did, and Canadiens Coach Jacques Demers asked the officials to examine the illegal stick in the last minute with the Kings holding a 2-1 lead.

Game over — for the Kings.

McSorley's stick did not cost the Kings the series. They still lost the next three games, failing to hold a lead in any of them. And McSorley was one of the Kings' best players in the postseason.

But I will never forget the quote from one Montreal player that his team, on the verge of falling behind 2-0 in the series, was "dead" until the call on McSorley revived them.

So please, Kings, no funny business this time around.

The Kings have been so good this postseason that they have played only 14 games, two more than the minimum. The Devils have played 18 games, including a seven-game series with Florida in the first round and a tough six-game series with the Rangers in the East finals.

Advantage Kings, yes?

Though I think this Kings team will be very good and a contender for a number of years, the time to win the Cup is now.

Four more wins and all the torture will have been worth it. Anything less and … well, I can always console myself with peanuts.

Hans Tesselaar is a Times staff writer who attended his first Kings game in 1975 and has been a season-ticket holder since 1988.

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