Kings finally crowned
Aaron S. Bayley
On the morning of Thursday June 10th, 1993, as students and classmates were filing past me on their way to class, I sat in disbelief in front of my high school locker with Wayne Gretzky's blue and orange Edmonton Oilers jersey draped over my head, despondent (and perhaps a little overly dramatic) over the Los Angeles Kings' loss in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals to the Montreal Canadiens. Five years after "The Trade," it was supposed to be the culmination of the Great One's glorious career; a moment when the stars finally aligned and Gretzky's goal of bringing the Cup to Los Angeles came to fruition. Only days before, Gretzky and his Kings had eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs in a thrilling seven-game series. Had the Kings beaten the Canadiens and won the Cup, Gretzky surely would have called it a career, riding off into the sunset instead of fleeing to St. Louis and then to New York in pursuit of the elusive trophy.
Now, nineteen years later, and almost a quarter century after Oilers' owner Peter Pocklington sold Gretzky to Bruce McNall's Kings, the Los Angeles Kings are on the cusp of a Cup victory. After enduring years of mediocrity, rebuilding, financial instability, and uniform reincarnations (including the embarrassing "Burger King" jersey), the Kings crawled into the last playoff spot in the Western Conference with a respectable 40-27-15 record and subsequently transformed into a different team. Led by newly-hired and understated coach Darryl Sutter and goaltender extraordinaire Jonathan Quick, along with late addition Jeff Carter to the already capable crew of Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, and Mike Richards, the Kings took their Achilles' Heel--they were the second-lowest scoring team in the NHL--and made it their strength, beating the hapless Vancouver Canucks in five games, sweeping the mirror-image St. Louis Blues, and beating the surging Phoenix Coyotes again in five with solid goaltending, key goals, and more grit and determination than their opponents. It isn't the prettiest hockey ever played, but, as Wayne Gretzky himself stated in Game 4, this version of the Kings is superior than his 1993 squad. Incredibly, the Kings have not lost on the road, and have lost only two playoff games thus far. No team has looked this dominant in the post-season since, ironically, the Edmonton Oilers swept the Boston Bruins in 1988--which turned out to be Gretzky's last Cup and game with the team. Going into Game 4, New Jersey doesn't stand a devil of a chance.
Even if the Kovalchuk-led Devils pull off an inspired win and avoid the sweep, no one really believes that they are capable of coming back against a team firing on all cylinders, as are the L.A. Kings. Since the Gretzky era, the Kings' logo has changed, shades of purple have been added to the familiar black and silver, and an early '80s retro jersey alluding to the purple and gold worn by the Triple Crown line of Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer, and Dave Taylor has made fleeting appearances. It may be nineteen years too late as far as Gretzky fans are concerned, but for the Kings organization, players and its fans, it still feels like mission accomplished. Los Angeles is Hockeytown, and a Hollywood producer couldn't have scripted and choreographed the Kings' post-season better.