A goal 19 years in the making brought a stunned and angry arena to stilled silence, then the boos rained down. 400 miles away a fan base beat down by mediocrity lept off their collective couches and celebrated another win on the quest for a Stanley Cup.
Six years ago in game five of the Western Conference Finals, the Los Angeles Kings and the then-Phoenix Coyotes faced off in an elimination game.
The Kings were the eighth seed that year in the Western Conference. They wen on an improbable run that spring, upsetting the President’s Trophy Vancouver Canucks in the first round, and then the second seeded St. Louis Blues.
The Western Conference Finals was the farthest the Kings had gone since 1993. Los Angeles had overcome the firing of coach Terry Murray mid-season. They reached the playoffs with a tenacious defense and in spite of a lack of goal scoring.
Murray’s replacement, Darryl Sutter, turned the Kings into a fore-checking, goal scoring machine when April rolled around. By the time they faced the the Coyotes, they had rolled to an 8-1 record.
Kings vs Coyotes Western Conference Finals
The Coyotes were making their first appearance in the Western Conference Finals in franchise history. However, like the Canucks and Blues, they fund out how formidable the Kings were that year. Just like in the previous series, the Kings took a 3-0 lead. They won the first two games on the road outscoring the Coyotes 10-3. With the Kings one win away from clinching the series at home, they were shut out in game four, setting up another game on the Coyotes home ice.
Game five wound up being a back and forth affair. Both teams traded goals in the first period making it 1-1. The second period was a repeat of the first. The two clubs traded goals two goals each, making it 3-3 when the period ended. Both goaltenders – Kings Jonathan Quick and the Coyotes Mike Smith – decided they had enough in the third period.
An Overtime to Remember
The overtime period was a chippy affair. Coyotes fans were screaming for a penalty when the Kings’ Dustin Brown ran into the Coyotes Martin Hanzal injuring his knee. While the fans were still voicing their displeasure, the Kings went into attack mode.
A Jeff Carter shot was kicked out by Smith. The rebound went straight to Kings’ forward Dustin Penner. Penner pounced on the shot and sent it into the roof of the Coyotes goal. The only cheers that were heard were the Kings players as they rushed to Penner to celebrate.
Then the boos came. Still angry over the non-call and the subsequent goal, Coyotes fans started to throw projectiles on the ice. The fans had to be calmed down by the Coyote players. It also didn’t help that as captain Brown was presented with the Clarence Campbell Bowl, emblematic of the Western Conference champions.
Back in Los Angeles, an alert went out to Kings fans to greet the winners when they arrived at LAX. So in droves, thousands awaited the Kings. Fans who had suffered through the last place finishes in 2007 and 2008 and the first round exits of 2010 and 2011.
There was still one more obstacle for the ultimate prize, but on that night six years ago the Los Angeles Kings had signaled their arrival. Over the coming weeks, 45 years of frustration were erased. That, though, is a story for another day.