Capping off a surprising, yet utterly dominant, playoff run, the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings downed the New Jersey Devils 6-1 in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final Monday night.
After losing back-to-back games, the Kings might have been feeling some pressure coming home for Game Six, their series lead suddenly in jeopardy, but the game tilted midway through the first period when Devils right winger Steve Bernier received a major penalty and game misconduct for boarding, after he flattened Kings defenceman Rob Scuderi with a hit from behind.
The Kings' power play had struggled throughout the postseason, going 9-for-85 (10.6%) prior to Game Six of the Cup Final, but when Bernier's penalty opened the door a crack, the Kings barged right through it, scoring three times to push the Devils back on their heels.
Starting to take some heat for his lack of production in the series, Kings captain Dustin Brown was a force in the deciding game, scoring a goal and two assists. Brown finished the playoffs with 20 points, tying linemate Anze Kopitar for the postseason lead.
Jeff Carter scored a pair of goals for the Kings, giving him four in the Final series and he ended up as one of seven players to tie for the playoff goal-scoring lead with eight goals. Teammates Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar, as well as Devils Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise shared that goal-scoring lead with Carter.
It was a tumultuous season for Carter. After being traded from Philadelphia to Columbus, Carter was shaken, then was injured and not very productive when he was in the lineup for the Blue Jackets.
Acquired in exchange for defenceman Jack Johnson, Carter's arrival helped spark L.A.'s offensive surge in the final quarter of the season and into the playoffs.
(As a side note, Carter's second goal came on a bizarre play, after Dustin Brown's entry into the zone was made much easier when Devils defenceman Anton Volchenkov collided with linesman Pierre Racicot. For a team already behind the eight ball at that point, it was impossibly bad luck for the Devils.)
Carter wasn't the only multi-goal scorer in the clinching game. Trevor Lewis, the third-line winger who had one goal in 19 playoff games, picked up a pair, including one into an empty-net with 3:45 remaining when the desperate Devils had pulled goaltender Martin Brodeur.
What made the Kings such a formidable opponent in the playoffs -- absurdly so for an eighth seed -- is that they had so many contributors.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Playoff MVP and it's tough to argue after he posted a .946 save percentage, the best since the stat was officially tracked, starting in 1984.
Quick was my pick at regular season's end for the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender, so this performance was no fluke, but great is great and worthy of recognition. He allowed two goals or fewer in 18 of 20 playoff games. In the other two games Quick allowed three goals.
Having a great goaltender obviously helps. So does having an elite defenceman and the Kings have one of the best.
Drew Doughty led all scorers in the Final with six points, giving him 16 points in the playoffs to lead all defencemen. While it's not surprising, given Doughty's pedigree, it was generally an uneven season for Doughty after a protracted contract negotiation caused him to miss most of training camp. But once the playoffs began, Doughty raised his game and played like the Norris Trophy-calibre defenceman that he can be, with obviously beneficial results for the Kings.
While the story of winning the Cup is the Kings finally getting the franchise's first, it's worth noting that they're in pretty good position going forward too.
Their top five forwards (Kopitar, Brown, Carter, Mike Richards and Justin Williams) are all under contract for at least two more seasons -- much longer in the cases of Richards and Carter -- and don't face the loss of a defenceman or goaltender to free agency this summer, so the pieces should be in place for the Kings to contend again next season.
Sure, the Kings are going to go into the 2012-2013 with a bull's eye on them and they'll have to deal with a Stanley Cup hangover, but these are dream problems for any franchise. Problems that were well-earned with the Kings' championship run this spring.