My boys went down in a blaze, losing in five games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals of the NHL, three wins shy of returning to the series they won last year for their first ever Stanley Cup. It's always bittersweet when your team flames out, short of the goal. I used to have a far more emotional attachment to sports teams, perhaps a reaction to my own weird inability to truly emotionally connect with humans in front of me, or at least my own lack of understanding of that connection, and fear of it. But I've mellowed a lot over the years in that regards. Fandom is a bizarre thing, this attachment to people you actually don't know, probably never will. It's all messed up in tribalism and star worship and escapism and a bunch of other weird shit. After long years of living and dying and frankly inappropriately acting out for the teams I followed I finally figured out that not only am I not really willing to spend that kind of emotional currency on strangers playing a game, but that it doesn't really gain me much. Except the Kings.
For whatever reason I can't let go of my hockey team. They're a screwy thing in a screwy sport, a team that plays a Canadian game in Los Angeles, which is notably lacking in frozen lakes at the best of times (or any lakes at all, ask the Lakers). They have been around since 1967 and I've rooted for them since 1987, when I met my step-dad and the native New Yorker introduced me to this wholly alien sport. Since then I've become a screwy thing myself, a relative hockey expert who can't skate, and has never played the game. I've personally played all of the other sports I've gotten intensely into other than hockey. But man, there's nothing like it. Go to a game if you don't believe me. It's astonishingly good in person. It's not as good on TV for non-fans, which is why it's not as popular as some sports in the US. That and the fact that outside of northern climes few people play it, relatively speaking. The cost of entry is high, compared to basketball and even baseball. You have to have a rink, which puts it out of reach of a lot of kids. But damn it's exciting.
Last year the boys captured the championship for the first time, and I didn't really believe they were going to do it until they actually sounded the horn ending the last game against my second-favorite team, the New Jersey Devils (the NHL has Eastern and Western conferences, the champions of which play each other in a best-of-seven series to determine the Stanley Cup winner). The Kings didn't just win it, they absolutely dominated the playoffs from start to finish, and in so doing were the lowest-seeded team to ever take home the hardware. The NHL seeds 8 teams from each conference 1 through 8, with 1 playing 8, 2 playing 7, etc. The Kings beat the #1 team, the #2 team, and the #3 team in the west, leading each best of seven series 3-0, and did the same in the Finals. It was an absolute demolishing of the competition and came out of nowhere.
But that was last year, however glorious it was. They played almost completely opposite in this year's playoffs, after an abbreviated season due to labor strife and a management lockout. They ended up with a higher seed, but couldn't win on the road, going 1-8. They were nearly unbeatable at home, and their sublime goalie Jonathan Quick was a wall on his home ice, yielding only one loss. Sadly it was critical given they couldn't win on the road this year, and ended up putting them in a 3-1 hole against the Blackhawks heading back to Chicago. Ultimately they Kings managed to score an amazing game-tying goal with less than ten seconds left in the game, forcing overtime, but fell in the second overtime period on a two-on-one breakaway.
All in all I'm impressed by the fortitude and willpower the Kings showed. Midway through the shortened season I was pretty sure they'd miss the playoffs. They turned things up and ended up grabbing a decent #5 seed, and won through to the third round in two gritty, defensive, hard fought series against the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks. But a repeat wasn't in the cards...the Hawks played too well in their own zone, and seemed to disrupt the Kings every time they tried to get it out of their end. They were hardly blown out in any game this postseason, losing by more than one goal in only a single game out of 18 played.
I hope they come back hungry next season, and I plan on rooting for them as avidly as I have this year, and for the last 26 or so years I've followed the guys. They've got a good young core of players, not yet in their 30s, and could conceivably put together another championship run, though that's never a clear thing with an 80 game season and four rounds of playoff hockey. Congratulations for a heck of a season all the same, boys, and heal up for next year. I'll be there.