NEW: "I still need to be pinched," one disbelieving fan said
NEW: This is Southern California's 2nd Stanley Cup; the Ducks won in '07
NEW: The Kings defeated better teams in the playoffs, including the Vancouver Canucks
NEW: One fan says the Kings need to "lock up" Quick for the next 10 years
The Los Angeles Kings finally have their name in lights. Their Stanley Cup triumph has lifted a weight from the shoulders of die-hard fans who have been pining for a championship trophy for 45 long years.
The scrappy Kings grabbed the National Hockey League’s prestigious Stanley Cup with a 6-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. Now La La Land is rolling out the red carpet for ice hockey’s tenacious new champions, who won a long-elusive crown with Hollywood flair and reality-show grit.
“I have no words to describe this,” one fan said. “Other than my children being born and having graduated the Police Academy, this is the single most joyous day of my life.” Now, he says, he can scratch one more item off his “bucket list.”
“The mountain has been climbed!”
For him and other Kings’ fanatics across Southern California and in the team’s growing and crazed diaspora, the championship – the first for the Kings since they began play in 1967 – ended decades of futility for a franchise struggling for success in a sport typically associated with frigid temperatures and icy lakes.
“We’re No. 1!” long-suffering Kings fans shouted as they streamed out of the Staples Center after the game on Monday night, undaunted by a heavy police presence.
Others formed a mosh pit outside the arena, jumping and smashing into one another other in celebration. As of late Monday evening, Los Angeles police reported a few minor arrests but no major problems.
The Die Hard Los Angeles Kings Fan Page on Facebook chronicled the rapture, relief and disbelief from the legions who’ve pulled for the team, as one fan put it, “through thick and thin.”
“I love you My Boyzz,” one elated fan said. Another didn’t know if this was a Hollywood movie or reality: “I still need to be pinched.”
“An amazing feeling,” another fan said. “Phew. Man. Just. Wow.”
Once an afterthought in the city of showbiz and bright lights, the Kings reached the pinnacle of professional hockey in a region long dominated by the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers, baseball’s Dodgers and Angels, and football and basketball at UCLA and University of Southern California.
The Kings have even been overshadowed by their crosstown Pacific Division rival, the Anaheim Ducks, which won the Stanley Cup in 2007 just 14 years after the franchise started.
This year, Los Angeles just edged into the playoffs as the 8th and last seed in the NHL’s Western Conference. Regarded as a solid and respectable team, chances appeared slim that the team would advance in the grinding post-season play that started two months ago.
But the black-clad underdogs, led by goalie Jonathan Quick, slew Goliaths in several best-of-seven series on their way to glory.
They humbled the Vancouver Canucks , a team that had scored 111 points in this year’s regular season, the most in the league.
Then the Kings swept the St. Louis Blues and overpowered the Phoenix Coyotes.
They dominated the Devils, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, in the first three games of the series, but New Jersey, with great players such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, and Zach Parise, didn’t say die.
After taking a 3-0 lead, the Devils beat the Kings in the next two games. For the Kings, the specter of losing the series after taking a 3-0 would have been a nightmare for a script that appeared headed to a happy ending.
But the Kings rose to the occasion at the Staples Center on Monday night and blocked the Devils’ dream of an upset.
The pace of the game was set in the first period, when the Kings scored three goals during a five-minute power play in the first period after the Devils’ Steve Bernier was ejected for boarding. That’s when a player is pushed or checked violently into the boards of the rink.
“I’m probably going to watch the Kings Stanley Cup DVD everyday until next season starts,” one person said on the Facebook fan page.
Quick displayed his usual prowess, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player during the playoffs. He outshone Devils’ goalie legend Martin Brodeur in the finals, but he deferred credit for the Kings’ success to the team.
For example, Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter performed with power and flair. Darryl Sutter, longtime player and coach, took over as Kings’ coach in December when the team was faltering, and he spurred the team to greater achievement.
Captain Dustin Brown – who hoisted the cup before a roaring home crowd at the Staples Center before the trophy passed from one screaming King to another – was another cog in the Kings’ wheel.
“You can’t say enough about this group and how hard they worked,” Quick said.
“I hope everyone realizes how amazing Quick is … he had perhaps the best postseason ever for a goalie,” a man on the fan page said. “The Kings need to lock him up for the next 10 years !!!”
Champagne flowed freely in the Kings’ locker room – including into the Stanley Cup itself. The team reveled in the fact that it was the first-ever No. 8 seed and lowest seed in the modern era to win the NHL championship.
The mood was much more somber in the Devils’ locker room.
“I’m not the kind of player that wants to hurt this team, I want to help them,” Bernier told reporters. “They scored three goals in those five minutes.”
The fan mania is a reminder of that the NHL is popular in the South and the West, not just in Canada and the icy northern U.S. states.
The NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, the Florida Panthers, the Dallas Stars, the Nashville Predators, the Carolina Hurricanes, and the San Jose Sharks sport popular franchises.
In sunny Los Angeles, meanwhile, the high-pitched enthusiasm rippled through the palm trees.
“This is,” one man told reporters. “The best city for hockey.”
The last time the Kings garnered this much attention back home was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, propelled by the league’s all-time top scorer, Wayne Gretzky.
“So when are they gonna make the movie about our cup run???” one Kings’ fanatic said on the Facebook page.
CNN’s Paul Vercammen reported from Los Angeles, and CNN’s Holly Yan reported from Atlanta.