Mr Jim Morrison sang glowingly of the city of Angels, and for the first time in a long time a team in LA other that the Lakers will win a Major sports title. The inextricable link between this team in California and the one residing in Toronto, The Kings first season in the NHL was the final time that the Maple Leafs were defending Stanley Cup champions, and of course the 1993 Conference final series which the Leafs fell short. Forty five years in team history, this will be the first Stanley Cup in team history. I know this writing is as though it has already happened, but if you have watched the games, it has become nothing less than inevitable.
The Kings were outplayed for large portions of each of the first two games, yet left Jersey with two wins. They now have four opportunities to win a single game, two of which are in their own building. If they slip in one of those, they have a nearly unmatched ten road game winning streak to take back to Jersery with them. The second half of game three the Kings began to show the dominance of a team that erased three division winners in the Western Conference, a feat in and of itself. It really isn’t the Devils fault, I would wager than not one team in the Eastern Conference could win more than two games against this team. They are simply peaking at the right time, and at a rather astonishing rate.
This feat deserves some accolades, and the first should go to a man that may have been forgotten in all the jubilation. Andy Murray while coaching this group put a defensive foundation together that remains intact under Daryll Sutter. The system they have in place now is much more aggressive, which was the largest problem Murray had with the team. They just couldn’t score goals, which they are quite capable of doing now, and it is happening at the best possible time. If your want to hear some entertaining audio clips, go back to the hire of Sutter mid-season and listen to the pundits laugh at the decision to go to him. It seems rather juvenile to point this out, but outside of Dean Lombardi there may not have been a single believer that Sutter was a good hire. Count me among them, it was the east thing to do at the time.
Dean Lombardi deserves a ton praise as well. He has been patient with his young group, but when the time came to be aggressive he did not back down. He was under the gun due to his players maybe not playing up to the level they were capable, and perhaps out of desperation took a gamble that a reunion of sorts of former Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter would help the Kings fortune. The regular season was rather ordinary for the two, but the playoffs are reminiscent of the run that was cut short by the Chicago Blackhawksonly two years ago. The most noticeable trait the two seem to have taken westward is the ability to play like pitbulls when killing penalties. In Philadelphia, they are simply left with a reality TV star in the making in Ilya “The Universe” Bryzgalov and a captain in Chris Pronger that may never play again (who will be greatly missed).
The Kings played the first two games tentative and walked out victorious. If they play to the level they did tonight, this series will be over on Wednesday. The Devils and Pete Deboer deserve a lot of credit, but like an avalanche flowing down the side of a mountain, the Kings are just tearing everything down in their wake. From historical perspective, maybe only the Detroit Red Wings teams coached by Scotty Bowman in the mid nineties have showed this large a divergence from one team to the rest of the league over the last two decades. The scary thing is, this team not only has a large window to remain dominant, they may be one of the more frightening teams in the league for many years.
And a short message to Leafs fans, maybe the lack of desperation from Brian Burke will lead to great things this summer. It is often written and spoken that moves made out of desperation lead to awful decisions that are crippling for years to come. This was witnessed with nearly every non draft related move made by John Ferguson Jr. during his final year and a half in Toronto, and the repercussions are still being felt. Dean Lombardi and Peter Chiarelli were both about one game from being fired over the past two years, yet they remained faithful to a plan that they put together. Did they get lucky? Absolutely. A P.K. Subban shot off of the post bounces left instead of right in overtime of game seven in the first round, and Vancouver may be the defending Stanley Cup champions this year. Tim Thomas would not be burnt out from answering questions about not visiting the White House, and Claude Julian would not be in Boston either.
Not to say there was no skill involved, but Toronto will get their turn, probably sooner rather than later. And when they do, it will be spectacular.