Lighting The Lamp: The Kings And The Cup

You might recognize the "Lighting the Lamp" feature from the Game Time paper. Rick Ackerman has been nice enough to send over his column for the website. "Lighting the Lamp" will be featured weekly every Thursday afternoon, as well as every home game day.

The Blues' newest NHL nemesis comes to the TradeStocks Center tonight looking to continue their seven game winning streak against the Note. Yes, the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings have won the last seven games in a row (including playoffs), dating back over a year ago to February 3, 2012, when St. Louis defeated Los Angeles, 1-0. Bonus points to those who can remember which currently injured Blue scored the goal and which goalie recorded his 11th shutout for St. Louis en route to his franchise record 16th shutout last Saturday in Edmonton. The Kings and coach Darryl Sutter simply have the Blues' number, outscoring them 26-11 in the process.

After a disastrous start (3-5-2, 8 points, last in the Pacific Division), the Kings turned it around, going 15-7-0 (30 points, second in the division), drastically improving both offense (22 goals in ten games to 71 goals in the next 22 games) and defense (31 goals against to 49 goals against).The stellar play of back-up goaltender Jonathan Bernier (1.94 goals against average, .923 save percentage, 7-2-0) has certainly helped the Kings get on the right track towards qualifying for the playoffs and defending their claim to the Cup. This shortened season matches the history of the franchise in Los Angeles. The Kings were quite ordinary during the first twenty years of their existence in the NHL, despite the presence of stars such as Marcel Dionne, Luc Robitaille, Dave Taylor, Charlie Simmer and goaltender Rogie Vachon. They only missed the playoffs seven times during that span, yet they never won a divisional or conference championship and did not advance to any Stanley Cup semi-finals, with the exception of 1969, when the Blues bounced them out, sweeping the series 4-0.

That all changed in 1987, when millionaire coin-collector Bruce McNall bought the team from real estate magnate Jerry Buss, who had purchased the Kings franchise from original owner Jack Kent Cooke in 1979. McNall changed the team colors to black and silver and turned the mediocre Kings into Stanley Cup contenders almost overnight in August, 1988, when he acquired Wayne Gretzky in a blockbuster trade with Edmonton. In his first season as a King, Gretzky scored 54 goals and 168 points and won the Hart Trophy as league MVP. He would then spearhead the Kings to their first (and only) regular season division title in franchise history in 1991, although playoff success would not come until the 1992-93 season.

That season started on a bad note when it was learned that Gretzky had suffered a career-threatening herniated thoracic disk, dating back to a game in 1990 when he was checked from behind by the Islanders' Alan Kerr. The injury was aggravated in September, 1991, when the Great One was hit from behind by defenseman Gary Suter during a Canada Cup game and yet again in an exhibition game in Las Vegas later that month. While Gretzky was treated and began rehabilitation, the Kings made do with forwards Robitaille, Jarri Kurri, Tony Granato, defenseman Rob Blake and goaltender Kelly Hrudey. Gretzky eventually returned to play 45 games, scoring 16 goals and 65 points as the Kings finished third in their division and barely made the playoffs. First year coach Barry Melrose saw his team score 33 goals in the opening round against Calgary, easily winning the series. They defeated the heavily favored Vancouver Canucks in six and faced the Doug Gilmour-led Toronto Maple Leafs in the Conference Finals. The Kings won the hard-fought series in seven games, including two decided in overtime. Gretzky clinched game seven with a hat-trick and an assist in a 5-4 victory.

The underdog Kings met the well-rested Montreal Canadiens for the Cup. Los Angeles surprised the mighty Habs in Montreal with an opening game 4-1 win. Game two turned out to be the turning point in the series, though. Late in the third period, the Kings led 2-1 and were on the way to another solid win when Montreal coach Jacques Demers requested a measurement of Kings defenseman Marty McSorley's stick blade. Demers' suspicion that the curve was too great was correct and the Canadiens got a power play. Demers pulled goaltender Patrick Roy and Eric Desjardins scored with the six on four advantage to tie the game. Desjardins also scored the winner in overtime, and the demoralized Kings never recovered, losing the next two games in overtime in southern California. Montreal returned home to win their 24th Stanley Cup in game five, the last Cup victory in the old Forum.

If the Blues play tonight like they did Tuesday against Edmonton, they will lose by a lot more than 3-0. They looked like the tired, road-weary team in the first period, only garnering eight shots against the lowly Oilers who played the night before in Smashville. Another pathetic, uninspired performance will be truly embarrassing. And please do not bring up 43 shots to 19. The game is won on goals, not shots. Nor is any blame placed on Jake Allen, who allowed three goals on seven shots. He didn't have a chance on two of those goals. It doesn't matter, though, whether you lose 0-1 or 0-3. If you don't score, you cannot win. The boys better remember to do "Whatever it takes" or this season will be "Long dead the note."

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