Darryl Sutter patted the glistening rim of the Stanley Cup, and a roar erupted from the Los Angeles Kings’ joyous fans.
“See this baby right here?” the coach asked. “She’s been gone for a couple of years, but oh, we’re happy she’s home.”
The Stanley Cup champions’ offseason party got into full swing Monday with a triumphant parade through downtown Los Angeles and a rally at the Kings’ arena to celebrate their second NHL title in three seasons.
The team estimated 300,000 fans lined Figueroa Street on a postcard-perfect L.A. day as the Kings rode nine double-decker buses and a flatbed truck about one mile to Staples Center.
The players showed off the Stanley Cup, the Clarence Campbell Bowl for their Western Conference championship, and Justin Williams’ Conn Smythe Trophy while confetti flew and fans gave a nonstop standing ovation to the relentless team that has turned Southern California into a hockey capital.
The Kings then gathered at their arena for a packed rally celebrating the second championship in Kings history. The Kings didn’t win a title in their first 43 seasons, but they’ll have to make room in their rafters for two more banners celebrating their Stanley Cup and conference crowns.
“I’m honored and ecstatic to add another ring to my finger,” said Williams, the playoffs MVP and a three-time Cup champion. “And I’m proud to be a part of some guys’ first ones. Now let’s add to it next year.”
After a weekend spent celebrating with the Cup all around the Southland from downtown to the beach, the Kings and their supporters were still in a partying mood. Their rally was repeatedly punctuated by chants of “Go Kings Go!” and “We Want the Cup!”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti even cursed while addressing the crowd early in the live television broadcast, drawing laughs and cheers.
Garcetti’s curse actually continued a Kings championship tradition: Goalie Jonathan Quick infamously dropped a few profanities two years ago while praising his teammates during the same Staples Center rally. Before this year’s parade, Quick laughingly said he had been banned from speaking this time.
The Kings wrapped up the Cup with Alec Martinez’s double-overtime goal on Friday night, beating the New York Rangers 3-2 to end the finals in five games. They had to win three consecutive seven-game series to reach the finals, emerging from the tough West with an overtime victory over Chicago.
“It’s been a pretty incredible experience these last few years,” said Martinez, who also scored the overtime goal that eliminated the Blackhawks. “It’s just as good as the first time. Maybe even better.”
The players wore their black home jerseys on the parade route, with many sporting Los Angeles Dodgers baseball caps. Sutter changed shirts during the parade, drawing laughs from the crowd and his son, Chris, while momentarily going bare-chested in the Los Angeles sun.
The Kings’ players and staffers were individually introduced at the rally. The fans saved their wildest cheers for Martinez, Sutter, captain Dustin Brown — who brought the Stanley Cup into the rink — and forward Marian Gaborik, the late-season acquisition who scored 14 goals in the playoffs.
Los Angeles general manager Dean Lombardi has built a powerhouse through patient development and judicious trades, including the deals that secured Gaborik and star center Jeff Carter from Columbus two years apart. After hiring Sutter midway through their first championship season, the Kings have won 10 playoff series while playing a league-record 64 postseason games over the past three seasons.
And the Kings are in position to be a contender for years to come, with most of their key players still in their primes and signed to multiyear contracts.
Gaborik is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and while the Kings appear eager to re-sign him, the Slovak goal-scorer had said he would wait until the offseason to decide where he’ll be in the fall. Defensemen Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene also are unrestricted free agents, but every other contributor to this championship run is under club control.
Lombardi got emotional as he saluted his players at the podium, saying they won because they became “deadly afraid of letting each other down.”
“This franchise has now evolved to another level,” Lombardi said.
SOURCE: The Associated Press