LOS ANGELES — The aftermath of a Stanley Cup-clinching goal in overtime is a mix of euphoria and indescribable devastation, and it usually happens in a tight space nobody can escape.
There was Alec Martinez, spastically jumping, discarding equipment, experiencing a level of joy and fulfillment few human beings could ever comprehend. A juicy rebound, a gaping net probably as wide as his eyes were in that moment and 12 feet of distance for his shot to cover that would give the Los Angeles Kings a 3-2 double-overtime victory in Game 5 and a second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
“After it went in,” Martinez said, “I think I blacked out.”
While Martinez was slipping into a joy coma, Henrik Lundqvist, a man who almost single-handedly kept the New York Rangers away from elimination during the nearly 35 minutes of extra hockey that featured enough close calls to fill an entire series, couldn’t move.
Lundqvist turned aside a blast from the right wing by Tyler Toffoli, and it caromed directly to a waiting Martinez. There just wasn’t enough time for Lundqvist to slide to his right, leaving him frozen in a moment that is every goaltender’s waking nightmare.
A goaltender who makes 48 saves deserves a better fate.
Teammates streamed onto the ice to offer their condolences and support for Lundqvist, who was perched on one knee inside his crease. He wanted none of it. It wasn’t as though he was upset at his teammates for failing to produce a third goal while he stood on his head; it was that in the moment, he simply couldn’t deal with the apologies, the encouragement.
It was almost as if Lundqvist was allowing himself to experience the pain and sorrow as he eventually skated away from the pile of celebrating Kings near his net, shrugging off a hug from Brad Richards along the way.
“I knew going into this series, it was going to end in tears; tears of joy or tears of heartbreak,” said a red-eyed Lundqvist, who took a moment to compose himself as best as he could in another room before facing the media. “It’s extremely tough.”
Walking into the visiting locker room in Staples Center on Friday night was like walking into someone else’s private misery. Derek Stepan sat at his stall, staring into space, in disbelief that the Rangers could not bury a third goal. Dan Girardi was still in his full uniform and pads with the same thousand-mile glare, ready to answer questions.
“Ask away,” he said to one reporter. “I have nowhere to be.”
The devastation a team feels after getting so close to their childhood dreams that they’ve worked all their lives to reach only to have it pulled away is something every hockey player who has lost in the Stanley Cup Final knows about.
But the litany of chances the Rangers had to extend this series to a sixth game will likely haunt these players the entire offseason, and perhaps even the rest of their lives.
During the overtime sessions, the Rangers rang two shots off posts. Rick Nash had a wide-open net with the puck on his stick and Jonathan Quick completely out of position, but his shot from about 15 feet away glanced off the stick of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov and fluttered over the crossbar.
Chris Kreider, in a virtual carbon copy of Game 2, was denied by Quick on a breakaway during the first overtime. Kreider had another chance to end it, but a splendid backcheck by the Kings’ Mike Richards prevented the game-ending goal.
The air of sadness in the Rangers locker room was heavy, but no one seemed to be having a harder time dealing with the loss than Ryan McDonagh, who hit the post with a rocket during the first overtime.
The Rangers lost this series fair and square. They weren’t good enough. It wasn't the bounces or puck luck. That won’t stop the players from thinking about how close they came to beating the Kings.
“It’s tough to think that way now,” said McDonagh, his voice cracking more and more with each answer he gave. “We tried and we tried to compete, but we just couldn’t get it done.”
For the second time in three years, Kings players and their families were taking photos of themselves with the Cup on the Staples Center ice. Kyle Clifford held his two-month-old son in his left arm while attempting to capture his family in a selfie that wasn’t going very well, not that he cared.
That’s one of the few things that didn’t go well for Clifford and the Kings in this series and over the past three years.
|Two Cups, One Conference Final In Three Seasons since 1970|
|Los Angeles Kings||2012-14||Won Cup, lost in West final, won Cup||30|
|Detroit Red Wings||1995-98||Lost in Cup Final, West final, won two Cups||26|
|Edmonton Oilers||1983-85||Lost in Cup Final, won two Cups||21|
|N.Y. Islanders||1980-85||Four straight Cups, lost in Cup Final||21|
|Montreal Canadiens||1975-79||Lost in semis, won four Cups||17|
|Philadelphia Flyers||1973-1976||Lost in semis, won two Cups, lost in Final||18|
On the surface, it seems premature to call what the Kings have a dynasty, but in the salary-cap era, this is the most dominant three-year performance by any NHL team.
The Kings have Cups in 2012 and 2014 with a trip to the conference final in 2013 sandwiched in the middle. That was commonplace when the NHL had six, 12 or fewer than 20 teams, but in a 30-team league tailored specifically to create parity, this is quite the special feat.
“After we won the first one, all we wanted to do was win another one,” said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who now has two Olympic golds to go with his two Stanley Cups. “We kind of messed that up last year. We lost the Cup to another team and we wanted it back so bad. We felt like it was ours. We got her back and we’re happy now.”
As for whether he feels he is part of a dynasty, Doughty said, “I don’t know if we’re part of that yet. Hopefully we’re on our way to that. I believe that this group could be—could be—at that point. But it’s going to take a lot of work.”
A lot of that work has already been done by general manager Dean Lombardi, who has masterfully structured his roster to contend for years to come through shrewd drafting, outstanding development and the perfectly timed deadline acquisition.
Of the 20-plus players having the time of their lives on the ice Friday, only Marian Gaborik, Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this summer.
Conn Smythe Trophy winner Justin Williams is under contract for one more year. Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown won’t be free agents until 2022. Doughty and Voynov are signed through 2019. Anze Kopitar isn’t up for a new contract until 2016.
Quick can call Los Angeles home through 2023.
Two of three goal scorers in Game 5 are back next year while the third, Gaborik, has repeatedly stated he wants to get a deal done to remain with the Kings.
“I just tried to come in here and fit in on the ice and off the ice,” said Gaborik, who made the score 2-2 midway through the third period with his league-leading 14th goal of the playoffs. “The locker room was great. You cannot win without a good locker room, and these guys are unbelievable. I'm very happy to be a part of it.”
While the Rangers could lose key players Anton Stralman, Benoit Pouliot and Brian Boyle to free agency, the Kings are poised to rule the NHL for years to come.
“We got a long ways to go before that,” Carter said.
But it’s not that far at all. If that dynasty isn’t here yet, it’s about as close as Martinez’s celebration was to Lundqvist’s devastation.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.
All statistics via NHL.com.