L.A. Kings beat Rangers: Is Hollywood now America’s Hockeytown?

The Los Angeles Kings knocked off the New York Rangers in a second overtime Friday night, putting the Left Coast club at the top of the NHL heap. It’s a feat even Wayne Gretzky couldn’t pull off.

Jae C. Hong/AP
Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez kisses the Stanley Cup after beating the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final series Friday in Los Angeles. The Kings won, 3-2, with Martinez scoring the winning goal in double overtime.

Detroit, you might want to watch your back. As the Los Angeles Kings won their second Stanley Cup in three years early Saturday morning, Hollywood has a bead on the Hockeytown franchise.

After performing dizzying feats of stick-and-puck magic and conjuring late game comebacks through three grinding playoff series, the Los Angeles Kings – long a languorous backwater in the chilly NHL – just became a dynasty, knocking off the New York Rangers in five games, and raising the beloved Stanley Cup for an elated Left Coast.

After rallying back from a 2-1 deficit, Kings defenseman Alec Martinez scored at the 14:43 mark of the second overtime – his second overtime game winner of the playoffs. An already electric Staples Center exploded in paroxysms of joy and the bench bounced in unison onto the ice to celebrate.

The Rangers, led by “King” Henrik Lundquist, their Swedish goalie, had nothing to feel sorry about, having again and again matched up with the Kings before finally falling to the Hollywood bunch’s relentless offense, which produced 51 shots on goal.

“We have a team that simply will not be denied,” three-time Cup winner Justin Williams, this year’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner (given to the playoffs' most valuable player), said after the game, summing up a simple truth.

The Hockeytown question has become interesting, sparking debates about the supremacy of the Western Conference, which has won six out of the last eight Stanley Cup playoffs. Notably, the NHL moved Detroit, also known as the Motor City, into the Eastern Conference this season in a division shakeup. (In full rebuilding mode, the Red Wings barely squeaked into the playoffs this year, and were eliminated in the first round.)

The Kings, meanwhile, had a miserable start to the playoffs, going down 3-0 against a big and hungry San Jose Sharks team. But after winning four straight to send San Jose back to the Shark Tank empty-handed, all eyes turned to the Kings, whose ultimate victory last night became almost preordained as the club won two more seven-game series, the first one against Anaheim (yes, all three California teams made the playoffs) and the second one against defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

The final playoff series of course had huge implications, drawing massive TV ratings. Here were America’s two largest cities squaring off in gladiatorial combat, playing for civic pride as much as for each other. It was the first time the two cities had met in a major sports final since the Yankees and the Dodgers battled it out 30 years ago, with the same result: Los Angeles won, that time in a sweep.

To be sure, hockey diehards from Boston to Montreal will still scoff in their basements about the Kings’ rise to the throne. Many still bemoan the tear-stained deal to bring Wayne Gretzky, “The Great One,” from Edmonton to Los Angeles in the early 1990s, which turned into the Kings going on an ultimately losing run to the Stanley Cup finals, against the Montreal Canadiens.

But with ex-hockey great Luc Robitaille now the general manager, and a front office bent on building the best all-around hockey team, it’s hard to find fault with the Kings on the ice.

Peek down the Kings’ roster and the names are beginning to glow with legend. There’s Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, who were pilfered from the Philadelphia Flyers; there’s Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty; there’s goalie Jonathan Quick; not to mention game-winner Martinez and Williams, the long-time role player who has emerged as one of the game’s best clutch players, earning him the nickname “Mr. Game 7” for his seemingly inevitable late game-winners. And then there’s Marian Gaborik, who never lived up to his promise as a Ranger, but for a time led the league in playoff scoring this post-season. (Gaborik gut-punched his former club by tying last night’s game in the third-period.)

“The Kings are unshakably confident in themselves, in each other – and in the idea that they could relive this defining moment a few more times,” writes Greg Beacham, for the Associated Press.

True, Los Angeles somehow doesn’t have an NFL franchise. But the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers, and baseball’s Dodgers, have always held the thrall of Hollywood’s sports nuts.

“But,” writes Eric Roberts on the Rink Royalty website, “the tides have begun to shift, and Los Angeles has begun to transform into a hockey town. When walking down the streets you see more silver and black jerseys … than any other LA jersey. You see billboard-sized Kings players staring down on the freeways of Southern California, but no Lakers or Clippers. People are even going to games for the hockey and not the fights.”

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