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Kings one win away from dream

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Rogie Vachon, the Kings’ first star goalie, won two Stanley Cups with Montreal, but endured lean years in Los Angeles. (Steve Babineau/Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

This, finally, could be the night that fast-talking Jack Kent Cooke envisioned in 1966 when he plunked down $2 million for an NHL expansion franchise. He called his new team the Kings, dressed them regally in gold and purple (which he’d later call “Forum Blue”), had them briefly play home games at the Long Beach Arena in 1967 before moving them to his new “Fabulous” Forum in Inglewood, and — as Sports Illustrated’s Pete Axthelm reported in a cover story near the end of their first season — believed they could win the Stanley Cup that spring.

Now, a mere 45 years later, it is possible. More than possible, it is very likely. Whether it happens tonight or Saturday night or some time next week, chances are that the Sun Belt’s first hockey team will hoist the Cup for the first time. The Kings’ dominance, on full display in their 4-0 shutout of the Devils in Game 3, has turned a dramatic playoff year anticlimactic. All that’s left is the coronation.

Before that, however, the Kings must get their fourth victory. Three times this postseason, they have had a chance to sweep a series with a win on home ice. They’ve only managed to do it once. You know what they say in the playoffs: That fourth game really is the hardest to win.

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  • Published On Jun 06, 2012
  • Keys to the Stanley Cup Final

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    You can expect that Mike Richards’ Kings and Zach Parise’s Devils will go at each other fast and hard. (Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    So here’s the Stanley Cup Final no one could have anticipated in early April. Kirk Penton of The Winnipeg Sun figured out that this is the “worst” match-up in 20 years: “New Jersey was ninth overall and the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Kings were 13th overall and eighth in the Western Conference,” he wrote. “Their regular-season placings total 22. The only higher sum was in 1991, when the No. 7 Pittsburgh Penguins beat the No. 16 Minnesota North Stars. In fact, not since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1980 has the better seed among the finalists been as low as No. 9 overall.” But he was quick to say that this was just a technicality, insisting “New Jersey and Los Angeles should be solid entertainment.” True that.

    As low as their seeds may have been, the Devils and Kings belong in this series. The Kings were underachievers for most of the regular season, in part due to not having Mike Richards at full strength after he was concussed in December. The Devils were without their top center, Travis Zajac, for 67 games. And both teams had to adjust to new systems brought in by new coaches — one at the start of the season, one during it — that emphasized aggressive forechecking. The saying goes that “It’s not the best teams that get to play for the Cup  but the teams playing the best.” Now that they’re healthy and comfortable playing a style that fits their personnel, it’s hard to argue that these two currently aren’t the best teams in hockey.

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  • Published On May 29, 2012
  • Don’t crown the Kings prematurely

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    A key question: how battle-tested are the Kings after three rounds? (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    Having dusted the Phoenix Coyotes in somewhat dominant fashion over five games, the Los Angeles Kings reached the Stanley Cup Final for only the second time in franchise history, and first since 1993. Most people will have them favored to win the Cup on the strength of their convincing first three rounds although — as good as they’ve been, and they’ve been very good — nothing is ever certain in the postseason. Any Kings fan who is already wondering about the championship parade route runs the very real risk of underestimating how difficult the last four victories of the season can be.

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  • Published On May 25, 2012
  • Underachieving Habs and Bruins ready to renew hostilities

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    Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty will surely have an emotional investment in meeting the Bruins again. (Michael Ivins/US PRESSWIRE)

    By Stu Hackel

    Fasten your seatbelts: The NHL’s greatest, most passionate rivalry resumes tonight when the Canadiens visit the Bruins for their first encounter this season (NHL Network in the U.S., 7 pm) and they play again on Saturday in Montreal. The six regular-season and seven playoff games these two played were some of the most exciting — and nasty — of the 2010-11 campaign and there’s no reason to believe they won’t continue in that vein.
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  • Published On Oct 27, 2011
  • Cup video captures Bruins’ determination

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    Though it contains some glaring omissions, the “Boston Bruins Stanley Cup 2011 Champions” video is will please devoted fans with its account of the team’s historic run to the title. (Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated)

    By Stu Hackel

    The ice has melted, the scruffy beards are gone and now, in the radiating heat of mid-July — one month after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup — the official NHL highlights video gets its premier in Boston on Monday and in New York on Tuesday. It’s a good, not great video, unless you’re a Bruins fan in which case you will forgive its shortcomings — including omitting some of the B’s more rugged play — due to the happy ending and the inside look at your heroes. For Bruins fans everywhere, this will be a must-have addition to their hockey collection.
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  • Published On Jul 18, 2011
  • Hard road to Cup fame for Thomas, Marchand

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    Bruins stars Brad Marchand and Tim Thomas are two of the NHL season’s biggest surprise success stories. (Shaun Best/Reuters)

    By Stu Hackel

    The two most compelling figures of the Stanley Cup Final were the Bruins’ Tim Thomas, a 37-year-old goalie who had a spectacular season and postseason, and Brad Marchand,  a 23-year-old rookie who is still learning what the NHL is all about, but learning fast.
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  • Published On Jun 17, 2011
  • Julien vindicated by Bruins’ Stanley Cup

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    Coach Claude Julien took lots of heat as he patiently guided his team on its long, hard road to the title. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

    By Stu Hackel

    When the 2010-11 season was around a dozen weeks old, the Bruins went into a brief tailspin and some fans, bloggers and media types felt that coach Claude Julien was the wrong guy to run this team. Too defensive-oriented, they charged, Too predictable. Unwilling to shake up his team or mix up his lines…

    Unfazed, Julien stuck with his plan and the Bruins finished atop the Northeast Division. When the playoffs began, the Boston media speculated that he’d have to win at least two rounds or he’d be gone, especially coming off the Bruins’ historic playoff collapse against Philadelphia the previous spring after having led the series 3-0. And when the B’s went down 2-0 to Montreal in the opening round, the gravediggers went reaching for their shovels.

    This morning, Claude Julien is the coach of the Stanley Cup champions, something he greatly deserves. Which only goes to prove that what is said or written in the media and among fans has — or should have — little to zero impact upon what happens when the puck drops.

    You often hear players and coaches in the playoffs talk about tuning out all outside distractions and focusing on their tasks. Julien had to do that all year. “As a coach you’re going to be subject to criticism, but the most important thing is what’s going on inside that dressing room,” he remarked from the postgame podium (video) after Game 7 against Vancouver, his five-year-old daughter sitting next to him, a Stanley Cup Champions t-shirt in his hand. “There wasn’t a guy that didn’t believe in what we were doing. So it’s easy to stay the course, and you got to stay the course. Today you’re rewarded for it.”
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  • Published On Jun 16, 2011
  • What to watch for in Cup final Game 7

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    A matter of mind: Keep an eye on goaltender Roberto Luongo and how he and the Canucks react if the Bruins score a goal, especially if they light the lamp early in the game. (Kathleen Hinkel/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    It’s Game 7 tonight, one last contest for the silver bowl named for Fredrick Arthur Stanley, Lord Stanley of Preston, the 16th Earl of Derby KG, GCB, GCVO, PC. Yes, that was his official title when, as Governor-General of Canada, he donated the trophy as a challenge cup for the country’s top amateur hockey team in 1882. The Stanley Cup is now the most famous and storied trophy competed for by professional athletes in North America. Players on both the Bruins and Canucks, regardless of their country of origin, have played their entire lives for a chance to have their name engraved on it.

    That includes Tim Thomas, the Bruins goaltender from the hard-bitten industrial town of Flint, Michigan, who has distinguished himself above all others this spring. “When we’re in the garage or driveway playing as a kid and you’re fantasizing,” Thomas said on Tuesday, “well, I was Stevie Yzerman, which doesn’t make sense for a goalie, but you’re saying to yourself, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, you’re not saying Game 6, you know? So this is really, you know, what every kid dreams about.”

    Dreams are important and no one achieves greatness without them. But it will be transforming those dreams into desire and then execution that will likely carry the evening in Vancouver. The team that plays better and tries harder should be the one that skates with the Cup. Of course, as we’ve seen all spring, anything can happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and we fully expect one final bizarre chapter will be written in the story of this year’s very bizarre tournament.
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  • Published On Jun 15, 2011
  • A Cup full of brutal, mystifying uncertainty

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    In a series full of enigmas, the biggest has been Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, who unwisely gave the Bruins plenty of emotional ammo before Game 6 and then inexplicably turned into a sieve. (Reuters)

    By Stu Hackel

    So we’ll go to a seventh game in the Stanley Cup Final after Boston beat Vancouver 5-2 on Monday, and the only thing one can say for certain is that the last game of the season will be on Wednesday.

    There’s no way to fully understand what has gone on in this series, one in which the home team always scores first and wins, the Canucks look like deserving champs at home and big-time chumps on the road, the Bruins sometimes throw the puck away like yesterday’s trash, sometimes more concerned with physical provocation (to which the Canucks don’t respond on the road) and seemingly more intent on hitting to injure than hitting to separate an opponent from the puck.

    We want the Stanley Cup Final to be the best hockey of the year. This isn’t. It has been great theater, but the quality of play hasn’t equaled the drama. Neither of these teams nor their fans care, of course. They don’t award the Stanley Cup based on style points.
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  • Published On Jun 14, 2011
  • Canucks vs. Bruins: Who has the edge?

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    Given Vancouver’s firepower and Boston’s suspect power play, Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas will likely have to be at his acrobatic best to win the Stanley Cup. (Anne-Marie Sorvin/US Presswire)

    By Stu Hackel

    Sometime in the next two weeks, one of these teams will end a long Stanley Cup drought.  Each faced down a strong first-round challenge by a major rival and enters the final round  relatively healthy and with good depth. Both head coaches are Cup finals first-timers, they are former minor league teammates in the St. Louis Blues organization and each ran the bench for the Montreal Canadiens. But the similarities between the two foes are less striking than their differences.

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  • Published On Jun 01, 2011


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