It takes me about 45 minutes to commute from Sherman Oaks to mid-Wilshire for work, a slow but steady ride through Laurel Canyon. I made a conscious effort this week to look for Kings flags waving from cars, an anecdotal observation of how a city feels about its sports team. I didn’t see any. (They sell for $14.99, by the way.)
No matter. With so many L.A. teams stumbling of late, Los Angeles is Kingstown these days. The Dodgers are wealthy in money but meager in wins. The Lakers and Clippers bowed out meekly in the first round of the playoffs despite loftier aspirations. The Bruins had limited success in football and basketball, while the Trojans had forgettable seasons (I’d mention the plight of the Angels and Ducks, but they play roughly 26 miles away).
Meanwhile, the defending Stanley Cup champs have made Angelinos proud with an aggressive and fast style of play. None of my Kings fan brethren were terribly concerned about a 0-2 deficit to the Blackhawks. Why? Because L.A. plays its best hockey on home ice, which they proved again in Game 3 with a 3-1 victory at Staples Center. The Kings have won 15 straight at home since March and nine straight home playoff games dating back to last season's Stanley Cup clincher.
The Kings are built in Coach Darryl Sutter’s image: stubborn and relentless. As eighth-seeded underdogs last year, they surprisingly went on to win the Cup. This postseason has been choppier, but they haven’t waivered. Trailing two games to St. Louis in the opening round, the Kings responded with four straight wins, and they survived a seven-game series against San Jose in the Western Conference semifinals. After a 2-1 loss to Chicago in Game 1, Sutter’s team trailed 4-0 in Game 2, but kept the game respectable with goals in the second and third periods, eventually losing 4-2.
Los Angeles worships leading men. With Matt Kemp struggling and Kobe Bryant rehabbing a torn Achilles tendon (and don’t forget David Beckham retired from the Galaxy), goaltender Jonathan Quick is in the spotlight. Last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner had an off night in Game 2, allowing more than three goals for the first time in 37 playoff games, before getting pulled from the game. Don’t expect a repeat performance the rest of the series. He rebounded nicely in Game 3 with 19 saves, including a spectacular glove save on Chicago’s Bryan Bickell in the third period to preserve the victory.
Here’s what diehard fans believe and what Chicago Blackhawk boosters should realize soon: we’re still in the era of Kings. Staples Center will be rocking Thursday for Game 4. We have a Cup to reclaim.
The Los Angeles Kings play the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday, June 6 at 8 p.m.