The Kings won tonight's Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in Newark, New Jersey — 8:13 into sudden-death overtime — on a very sweet breakaway goal by Anze Kopitar, the NHL's first player from Slovenia. The Kings as a team kind of sucked all night, with errant passes, fanned-on shots and slow feet, and got lucky when the shooters for the New Jersey Devils missed several open nets. But they ended regulation time tied, and in the overtime period the Kings had their best scorer in the right place when it counted. Watch the NHL's video of Kopitar's goal above — nice and short.
The 2-1 victory means the Kings lead a Stanley Cup Final series for the second time in their history. They never did win that second game in 1993, let alone the four needed to become Cup champions. They have won all nine games they have played on the road during this year's playoffs, a remarkable string of success. They play Game 2 on Saturday in New Jersey, then come home to Staples Center next Monday.
The Devils have won the Stanley Cup three times in the last 16 years. The Kings have never won since they began play in 1967. Paul Brownfield, a former television critic for the Los Angeles Times, had a very true (and amusing) piece in the New York Times this week on the frustrations of being a multi-decade LA Kings fan. Excerpt:
The history of the Los Angeles Kings (1967 to present) is a tragedy in five acts. Or, is it more like 10 installments of an obscure mini-series? The longer you’ve been a Kings fan, the more analogies you tend to reach for, with brief, weightless pauses for singular playoff success (read that literally) and, of course, the False God Whose Name Is Gretzky period.
To come of age as a Kings fan in the late 1970s and ’80s was to find oneself wandering all over the Southern California radio dial to hear their games. For two seasons they were on a Christian station.
“It was really weird because the program leading up to our Kings pregame show would finish with a hymn or the words ‘Praise God,’ and then you would immediately hear the theme song for Kings hockey,” Bob Miller, the Kings’ longtime play-by-play announcer, recalled in an e-mail.
Prayer did help.
By the way, a hockey fan friend and I agreed early in the playoffs that one of the only unpleasant things about the Kings going deep would be that LA Times columnists Bill Plaschke and T.J. Simers would feel the need to weigh in. They have been part of the clueless-about-hockey boys club that has ruled at the LAT sports section for decades. This in spite of the paper also employing two of the city's best and most knowledgeable hockey writers in Helene Elliott and Lisa Dillman.
So it has happened. Plaschke and Simers have both mentioned the Kings being in the final. Simers has just done some throwaway lines, but Plaschke wants on the bandwagon (but includes the expected non-sequitir comparison of a Kings player to ex-Laker Derek Fisher.)
If there's a place to hang off the back, I want on. The larger readership of other Los Angeles sports has taken me elsewhere this season, but, with the kindly help of our hockey Hall of Fame columnist Helene Elliott (please?), I unabashedly want on now, and I promise to describe the scene here for the next two weeks for whoever wants to join me. Just don't expect it to feel like a parade. Until, of course, there actually is a parade.
In the driver's seat is Darryl Sutter, a former NHL star who was lured from his Alberta cattle farm in midseason to prod yet another highly paid, underachieving Kings team.
He's 53, yet with his weathered face and gaunt stare, he appears 20 years older. He doesn't really speak, he mumbles, so much that the players initially had trouble understanding him. He showed up for media day wearing a short-sleeve checkered shirt and a huge cellphone holder hanging from his belt. Just looking at him, it's not evident whether he's coaching hockey or dusting crops.
"It's all about the team," he said softly. "Go talk to the team."
Sutter is enough of a character that if the Kings go all the way, he could show up on Leno. He's one of six Sutter brothers to play in the NHL, and couldn't take the Kings rescue job offered to him at midseason until he took care of some cattle ranching business up in Alberta.
Sutter's post-game interview tonight: