With the Stanley Cup at last lifted triumphantly above their heads on Monday, the Los Angeles Kings both made history and erased it in the afterglow of their maiden National Hockey League (NHL) championship.
An ecstatic Staples Center crowd cheered wildly into the night as the Kings finished off the New Jersey Devils with a series-clinching 6-1 victory that delivered the championship that had always eluded the 45-year-old franchise.
The final buzzer sent Kings players piling onto one another and signaled the beginning of a bright new era and the end of a frustrating old one.
"This feels so good," Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty told reporters amidst the chaotic celebration.
"I have so many thoughts going through my head right now. Dreams do come true."
For too long Los Angeles, whose last trip to the Stanley Cup Finals had come in 1993 when Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky was a member of the team, had suffered as a middling National Hockey League franchise.
But the joys of that Gretzky era quickly became a distant memory as the team missed the playoffs in their next four seasons and endured a another playoff drought from 2003-09.
Making matters especially cruel, the cross-town Anaheim Ducks were having no such difficulty making progress, reaching the Cup finals in 2003, just their 10th year in the league, and eventually winning it all in 2007.
"These players, they've pretty much heard it all," said Kings coach Darryl Sutter, of the team's inability to win.
'We brought it'
Meanwhile, the Kings' future core of standouts like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown were quietly developing with little fanfare or results.
The big payoff came in the form of a magical 2011 playoff run that seems unlikely even now.
"We brought it every night, Kopitar said, of the team's 16-4 playoff record. "(Goaltender and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick) was huge. The numbers speak for themselves, he was awesome for us."
Back in December, the Kings were just another team with an offense that needed a boost and were only staying afloat through the heroics of Quick.
Second to last in the Pacific Division, Los Angeles fired coach Terry Murray in December and lured Sutter from his farm near Edmonton. Sutter had not coached since stepping down from the helm of the Calgary Flames in 2006.
It hardly seemed like the recipe for a dramatic turnaround, and the Kings had to fight until the final week of the regular season to clinch the Western Conference's final playoff berth.
The rest is history.
"December seems like a long time ago," Sutter said.
"Looking at it in the big picture now, I was right in what I thought about these players."
In their red-hot race to the championship, Los Angeles lost just two games in their first three playoff rounds and after taking a 3-0 lead on New Jersey had a chance to match the 1988 Edmonton Oilers for the best post-season record of 16-2.
The Devils made it interesting by winning two straight and building the sense of angst throughout Los Angeles, making for a tension-filled week that felt longer than the 45 years the Kings went without a title.
"Now they can just soak it in," Sutter said.
No longer will the Kings take a back seat because of their checkered past, they have written a new chapter of success.
"It was a long road," Quick said.
"In (tough) moments, no one every turned on anyone, we stuck together. We all knew what kind of players we had in our locker room."
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|Denis G. Rancourt|