The Los Angeles Kings on Friday night became the first team since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings to claim two Stanley Cup titles in three seasons, putting a finish on the 2013-14 NHL season with a 3-2 double overtime win over the New York Rangers.
But while Los Angeles now has a pair of Stanley Cup titles, what is remarkable about how different their two Cup runs just one season apart really were.
"We did it a different way in '11-12," Kings coach Darryl Sutter told reporters after the clincher. "That's something that I don't think could ever happen again if you go back to that because of winning as a road team all the time."
The Kings were able to survive three Game 7s -- all on the road -- and won a Stanley Cup unlike any other in NHL history.
Back during their 2012 Stanley Cup run, the Kings jumped out to a 3-0 lead in all four series, recording one sweep, two five-game wins and a six-game Stanley Cup Final victory. They never faced elimination in any game of the tournament. This time around, Los Angeles trailed in three of the four series -- including being down 3-0 to San Jose in the first round -- and faced elimination a total of seven times.
Every time, they managed to stay alive and advance, becoming just the second NHL team to come from 3-0 down in the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup -- the first to do it when rallying from an earlier round, and the first to stave off elimination as many times as they did.
In 2012, the Kings reached the Stanley Cup Final in just 14 games, tying a league mark for fewest games needed to reach that stage since the format expanded to all best-of-seven series in 1987. This year, the Kings set the mark the other way, becoming the first NHL team to reach the Final while playing all 21 games in the first three rounds.
Despite the wear and grind that wore out other clubs with 26 playoff games played -- the 2004 Calgary Flames and 1987 Philadelphia Flyers both lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final -- the Kings were able to outlast the Rangers. In fact, the Final was the easiest series they played in terms of total games needed to win.
The Kings' only playoff losing streak in 2012 came in the Stanley Cup Final, a two-game slump that delayed their coronation. This year's Los Angeles club had two three-game losing streaks, both of which pushed the team to the brink. But the Kings rallied from that 0-3 hole against the Sharks, and rallied to beat the Ducks from 3-2 down after initially going up 2-0.
"What we went through this year as opposed to 2012, the Game 7s, the backs against the wall, what we went through to get to this point is unique," Conn Smythe Trophy winner Justin Williams said. "Obviously every Stanley Cup is special in its own way, but we really had to earn this one."
The Kings' core is nearly identical to the 2012 Cup team, but this year's squad showed a lot more balance and perseverance in this Cup run.
Netminder Jonathan Quick showed a lot more vulnerability this time around, seeing his goals-against balloon from 1.41 two years ago to more than a goal-per-game increase -- 2.58 -- while his save percentage dropped from .946 to .911. No doubt, Quick came up big in parts of this year's run -- particularly in the Stanley Cup Final -- but he wasn't the main reason the Kings won the hardware this time around.
Los Angeles showed its depth during the playoffs, and despite playing six more games in 2014, the Kings -- who struggled badly at times offensively during the regular season -- averaged 3.38 goals per playoff game, nearly a one-goal jump from the regular season. The deadline acquisition of Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the deadline paid huge dividends for the Kings, as he scored 14 goals in the postseason -- the most in Los Angeles playoff history since Wayne Gretzky in 1993 -- to lead all playoff scorers, more than doubling his regular-season goals and points totals for the year.
"During the Olympics, I always thought about this, How are we going to beat Chicago? How are we going to beat Chicago?" Sutter said. "[Kings general manger] Dean [Lombardi] got Gaborik. We were able to put some kids in, go from there, so..."
Just two Kings had 20 points in the 2012 postseason run, as Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar were the primary offensive weapons during the first run, and just two of seven of the playoffs' leading scorers donned Kings sweaters. This time around, four Kings eclipsed the 20-point mark, and five Kings -- Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Williams, Gaborik, and even one defenseman, Drew Doughty -- ended up in the top six in scoring for the postseason.
While the 2012 Kings led the league in goals-against and were just third in offense despite a 16-4 mark, this year's Kings led the playoffs in offense and were just fourth in defense, becoming the first champ to lead the playoffs in goals-per-game since the 2008 Red Wings, the only other team since the 2004 lockout to do so.
Quite simply, this year's Kings delivered a more balanced and rugged championship run, becoming the first champ to play 26 playoff games to win the Cup, and crafted a much more team-oriented championship than two years ago. Los Angeles faced more than their share of adversity and survived, and outlasted challenges that felled other teams with such a heavy workload.
"This team, you got to give them lots of credit," Sutter said. "Tonight is their 26th game. ... I'm not so sure that will ever happen again. You talk about 26 games plus how many overtimes. We probably played close to 30 games since the 20th of April. That's pretty significant.
"You got to give these guys full marks."
While the 2012 Kings were impressive for their efficiency, this version was impressive for their durability. Even when it seemingly appeared the New York Rangers might make a series of it with a 2-1 lead heading into the third period, the Kings were impressive down the stretch, once against dominating late to force overtime, and eventually Alec Martinez's double-overtime winner that sent Los Angeles into the offseason with the Stanley Cup.
In a brutally tough Western Conference, the Kings shone through, proving this club deserves consideration as one of the best teams of the 21st Century, along with the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit. The 2014 Kings were survivors, and were able to outlast challenges that few other teams could. They not only survived a myriad of challenges they faced, but they thrived, and earned an improbable championship.