Hockey fans have been talking a lot about last June here in Los Angeles. I’ve also heard whispers about the lockout-shortened 1995 NHL season.
You can guess why last June is special to hockey fans in Los Angeles. Here’s a brief history lesson from ’94-95.
The Stanley Cup playoff brackets were decided on the final day of the regular season. The final piece of the puzzle was the Kings, who needed to win their final two games to leapfrog two teams to clinch a Western Conference playoff berth. As it often happened that year, the two games were scheduled 24 hours and 865 miles apart.
On May 2, playing their 47th game of the season, the Kings invaded Winnipeg and beat the Jets 2-1. Rob Blake and Jari Kurri scored for L.A., Randy Gilhen scored for the Jets, and Kelly Hrudey made 42 saves. One down, one to go. Barry Melrose’s bunch rolled into Chicago the next day to face a Blackhawks club that had won four straight. This one was no contest – the ‘Hawks rolled to a 5-1 win. Eddie Belfour denied Wayne Gretzky for five of his 21 saves. The losing coach, Melrose, wouldn’t coach another game for 13 years and buried himself behind a desk in Bristol, Conn.
The winning coach, Darryl Sutter, tucked a sheet of paper into his suit pocket, stepped down from the bench and headed down the tunnel to the home clubhouse without cracking a smile.
I may have made that last sentence up, but it’s not hard to imagine.
Flash forward to this year.
There’s a mild irony to my Stanley Cup pick.
The Kings are not the best bet to repeat as champions simply because they dominated the 2012 postseason. Not because wiping out the first three months of the season is the piping-hot menudo for a bout with Stanley Cup hangover. Not because the Kings have the only NHL head coach who’s been through a lockout-shortened season before in Sutter. Not because they have their entire roster back1 – a boast no previous champion can claim — while new players on other teams struggle through a potential learning curve.
And not just because many of those teams will eliminate themselves by playing poorly through the first quarter of the season.
It’s the sum total of all these factors.