Going back to the beginning of the 2011-12 season, it was common to see knowledgeable hockey people pick the Los Angeles Kings to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.
But no one could have predicted the road they would take to get there.
They suffered through an up-and-down regular season that included the dismissal of defensive-minded coach Terry Murray. His replacement, Darryl Sutter, installed a more up-tempo attack.
The result was a 25-13-11 record under Sutter that got the Kings into the playoff chase, but back-to-back losses to end the regular season left them with the No. 8 seed.
Something happened in the four days between the end of the regular season and the start of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Kings played unlike any eighth seed before them, rampaging their way through the Western Conference to reach the Stanley Cup Final in just 14 games.
They were the first eighth seed to reach the Final since Edmonton in 2006, but it took the Oilers 17 games to get there. This year's Kings became just the seventh team since 1987, when all series were made best-of-seven games, to reach the Cup Final in 14 games; no team has done it in fewer games.
They eliminated, in order, the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the West, taken 3-0 leads in all four series and have won all 10 games on the road in the playoffs, including elimination games in Vancouver and Phoenix.
Finally, the Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final to win the first championship in franchise history.
Here's a game-by-game look back at the Kings' road through the playoffs:
CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS VS. VANCOUVER
April 11: Game 1, at Rogers Arena
Kings 4, Canucks 2
With the score tied 2-2 late in the third period, Mike Richards intercepted an Alexander Edler pass in the Vancouver zone and threw a diagonal pass through the zone intended for Jeff Carter. The puck was behind Carter, but bounced off his heel right to Dustin Penner, who scored with 3:14 left in regulation. Kings captain Dustin Brown added an empty-net goal to give them the 1-0 series lead.
"We got a fortunate bounce on my goal, but we worked hard for 60 minutes tonight and it worked out for us," Penner said.
April 13: Game 2, at Rogers Arena
Kings 4, Canucks 2
Brown tied an NHL record with a pair of shorthanded goals, the second coming at 5:17 of the second period, snapping a 1-1 tie and holding up as the game-winning goal. Brown also had an assist, five shots on goal, three hits and three takeaways in 19:29 of ice time.
When asked by NHL.com to describe Brown's performance, linemate Anze Kopitar said, "English is my second language, I can't find enough [words]."
April 15: Game 3, at Staples Center
Kings 1, Canucks 0
Brown scored his fourth goal of the series, and goalie Jonathan Quick made the lead hold up, stopping all 41 shots Vancouver threw at him. He shut down all five Vancouver power plays, including a 43-second two-man advantage in the second period.
The win put the Kings on the brink of winning just their second playoff series since Wayne Gretzky led the team to the 1993 Stanley Cup Final.
"Going into the series, does this group believe we could have beat them? Definitely," Brown said. "We never thought we were going be up 3-0 in this series against a team that's pretty well dominated this League for the last two years. In saying that, it's three games. It takes four to win."
April 18: Game 4, at Staples Center
Canucks 3, Kings 1
The Canucks got Daniel Sedin back in the lineup, but it was his brother, Henrik, who did the damage, scoring a pair of goals as Vancouver remained alive in the series. Cory Schneider, who replaced Roberto Luongo in net for Game 3, made 43 saves, outplaying Quick, who let in three goals on 30 shots.
April 22: Game 5, Rogers Arena
Kings 2, Canucks 1 (OT)
Brad Richardson skated between three Canucks to bang in a puck in front to tie the game early in the third, and when Vancouver's Dan Hamhuis turned a puck over in the neutral zone, Jarret Stoll pounced on it and beat Schneider over his blocker 4:21 into overtime for the series-clinching goal.
It marked the first time since 2001 the Kings had won a playoff series, and made them just the 10th eighth seed to win a playoff series -- the sixth to upset a Presidents' Trophy winner.
"It's been a long road for a lot of guys in here that have been in this organization and put in a lot of time," Brown said. "Just coming together as a group and to finally take a -- this is just one step -- but to take a step in this playoff atmosphere is huge for this team. I'm just proud of this group."
CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS VS. ST. LOUIS
April 28: Game 1, at Scottrade Center
Kings 3, Blues 1
David Backes opened the scoring, putting the Kings down on the road for the first time, but the deficit lasted just 7:42, as rookie defenseman Slava Voynov scored late in the first. Then Matt Greene, with 1:03 left in the second period, broke the tie when he followed a Brown shorthanded rush by shoveling the rebound past Blues goalie Brian Elliott for his first career playoff goal.
Quick again was outstanding, stopping 12 of 13 shots in the first period and all 16 in the final 40 minutes.
April 30: Game 2, at Scottrade Center
Kings 5, Blues 2
Kopitar scored twice in a four-goal first-period blistering. Richards started the scoring just 31 seconds into the game when Penner took the puck away from the Blues' Kevin Shattenkirk in the corner in the St. Louis end and skated in front. Elliott stopped his attempt, but Richards scored on the rebound to start the rout.
"This is the best time to play for sure," Richards said. "It's fun, it's intense. This is what you play for. We have 82 warm-up games to play before the playoffs and you want to make the most of it when you get here."
The Kings gather to celebrate Dustin Brown's goal in Game 6. (Photo: Getty Images)
May 3: Game 3, at Staples Center
Kings 4, Blues 2
The Kings stole the momentum when Dwight King sneaked behind the St. Louis defense, took a long pass from Greene and scored 40 seconds after Chris Stewart had tied the game for the Blues. Richards and Drew Doughty added insurance goals, and the Kings limited the Blues to just 20 shots on Quick.
"It's one of those things where we play a hard, physical game," Brown said of his team, which out-hit the Blues 46-39. "We have everyone being physical, bumping. When you have 20 guys doing that to you for 60 minutes, it can be a frustrating game. We've done it for three games. Now it's important to do it for a fourth game. We have a stranglehold on this series. Now it's having that killer instinct."
May 6: Game 4, at Staples Center
Kings 3, Blues 1
Brown scored two more goals, including the game-winner with 1:43 left in the first period, as the Kings advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 1993. Quick made 23 saves, and Los Angeles' penalty killers did the job again, shutting down the Blues on three power plays, and killing off all 19 St. Louis advantages in the series.
"We knew we had all the ingredients in here to make something special happen, and it's coming together," Stoll said. "But we're only halfway there. We got a long ways to go yet. But we're getting closer. Anytime you knock off a team the caliber of the St. Louis Blues, you're doing something right."
CONFERENCE FINALS VS. COYOTES
May 13: Game 1, at Jobing.com Arena
Kings 4, Coyotes 2
A week of rest didn't slow the Kings, who put 47 shots on Phoenix goalie Mike Smith and got a pair of goals from King, but it was Brown who again played the hero. Taking a long pass from Voynov, he beat Smith 2:11 into the third period for his second-straight game-winning goal.
Despite allowing a goal from center ice, Quick stopped 25 shots as the Kings won Game 1 for the third straight series, and improved to 6-0 on the road.
May 15: Game 2, at Jobing.com Arena
Kings 4, Coyotes 0
Carter had his first playoff hat trick and Quick stopped all 24 shots as the Kings skated off with their a League record-tying seventh straight road win in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"We really want it right now," Penner told NHL.com. "We want the first goal. We want the next goal. It's that intensity and that passion that drives us. It's that good type of fear that stops you from letting games get away from you and continues to push you forward. We use that fear of losing to motivate us as opposed to shrinking to it."
May 17: Game 3, at Staples Center
Kings 2, Coyotes 1
The Coyotes scored first for the first time in the series, getting a Daymond Langkow goal just 1:03 into the second. The lead didn't last long, as Kopitar answered just 2:07 later, and then King pulled a puck off the corner in the Phoenix end and snapped a shot over Smith's glove 1:47 into the third period.
"It's exciting, I think for everyone in here," Brown said of his team, which took its third straight 3-0 series lead. "There's a lot of guys that haven't experienced this and a lot of guys that have. The thing that's made us successful as a team is handling that success. We've put ourselves up 3-0 again. It's not only an opportunity but now a responsibility to prepare ourselves to have a good game."
May 20: Game 4, at Staples Center
Coyotes 2, Kings 0
Phoenix's Shane Doan scored twice and Smith made 36 saves as the Kings saw their eight-game playoff win streak snapped. The Kings went 0-for-6 on the power play and saw their streak of 31 straight successful penalties killed snapped.
"We had our opportunities on the power play and we didn't cash in," Kopitar said. "We lost the special teams battle tonight and we have to make sure that we correct that on Tuesday."
May 22: Game 5, at Jobing.com Arena
Kings 4, Coyotes 3 (OT)
Penner, maligned during the regular season, sent the Kings to the Stanley Cup Final when he scored with 2:18 left in overtime, beating Smith from between the hash marks off a Carter rebound.
"It is pretty exciting," Brown said. "There are a few guys in here that have been there and had the opportunity, but a lot of guys haven’t. It is what you play for."
Added Doughty: "I'm so excited, but at the same time we're going to celebrate tonight and today and enjoy it. Tomorrow, we're right back at it. We're in the Stanley Cup [Final]. That's what we've dreamt of our whole lives and what we've worked for [since the] summer."
STANLEY CUP FINAL VS. DEVILS
May 30: Game 1, at Prudential Center
Kings 2, Devils 1 (OT)
Kopitar's breakaway goal 8:13 into overtime gave the visitors the win, while Quick needed to make only 16 saves.
After going the first 14-plus minutes of the second period without a shot on goal, New Jersey pulled into a 1-1 tie with 1:12 left before intermission when the puck went off Voynov's chest and into the net. Anton Volchenkov was given credit for the goal.
The Kings opened a 1-0 lead 9:56 into the first when Colin Fraser scored his first career playoff goal off a one-timer from the right circle.
"It's just a big win, a big win in Game 1, and we focus now on Game 2 and try to win Game 2," Stoll said. "It doesn't matter if it's two in a row or 40 in a row on the road, the numbers don't really matter right now. It's whether or not we find a way to win."
June 2: Game 2, at Prudential Center
Kings 2, Devils 1 (OT)
Carter was the overtime hero, scoring at the 13:42 mark when he ripped a shot from high above the hash marks past Martin Brodeur's blocker side.
The Kings became the first team in history to go 10-0 on the road in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They also tied the League mark for the most road wins in one postseason (10), equaling the 2004 Calgary Flames, who were also coached by Sutter. With the victory, the Kings improved to 4-0 in the second games of their series, outscoring their opponents, 15-5.
The Devils held a 30-21 advantage in shots through regulation, receiving the game-tying goal off a deflection by fourth-line left wing Ryan Carter. Quick finished with 32 saves. Doughty scored a highlight-reel goal to give L.A. a 1-0 lead 7:49 into the first, carrying the puck in from the far blue line before skating around Stephen Gionta at center and then Carter at the Devils' blue line before lining a shot from the right circle that went through Bryce Salvador and past Brodeur.
June 4: Game 3, at Staples Center
Kings 4, Devils 0
Quick stopped 22 shots in recording his third shutout of the playoffs, tying Phoenix's Smith and the New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist for the NHL lead and setting a franchise record for one postseason. The Kings received second-period goals by Alec Martinez and Kopitar and third-period goals from Carter and Justin Williams. The goal by Martinez came several minutes after Los Angeles killed a 5-on-3 disadvantage. Brodeur stopped 17 shots, but the Devils couldn't beat Quick, who has allowed just 24 goals in 17 playoff games.
The home team finished 6-for-6 on the penalty kill, including denying 59 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage, and has been perfect against the Devils on the penalty kill (12-for-12). Los Angeles also converted both of their opportunities with the man advantage, cashing in twice in 2:03 of power-play time.
Los Angeles has now jumped to a 3-0 lead in its fourth straight series, something never before accomplished in NHL history.
"[In] the first period, killing off that 5-on-3 was huge," Doughty said. "That gave us a huge momentum boost. Those guys did a great job blocking shots and that just lifted all our spirits on the bench and from there on out we were a far better team."
June 6: Game 4, at Staples Center
Devils 3, Kings 1
New Jersey put the party on hold as Adam Henrique broke a 1-1 tie with 4:29 left in regulation and Brodeur made 21 saves to help the Devils avoid a sweep. Patrik Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk also scored third-period goals for New Jersey, which prevented Los Angeles from equaling Edmonton's 16-2 run through the 1988 postseason.
"It's fun. This is where every kid dreams of playing one day," Henrique said. "We know it's going to be a tough task to come back, (but) there's no quit in the group in here. We know we can do it. We know we can put four together and come back."
Quick stopped 21 shots, but his shutout streak came to an end after nearly 139 minutes. The Kings had allowed just one third-period goal in their previous nine games.
The Devils became just the sixth team in Final history to force a Game 5 after losing the first three games.
June 9: Game 5, at Prudential Center
Devils 2, Kings 1
Brodeur was splendid again in a 25-save performance and Bryce Salvador continued his offensive outburst when he broke a 1-1 tie at 9:05 of the second period as New Jersey staved off elimination for a second straight game. It marked the first road loss of the postseason for Los Angeles, which entered the night with a 10-0 record.
Parise also tallied New Jersey's first power-play goal in 16 opportunities, capitalizing on a turnover by Quick behind the Kings' net. It was Parise's first point of the series.
"We're still alive, so we have a chance," Brodeur said. "It's a difficult thing to get yourself ready for games like that. Now it's been two in a row. It drains you a lot. It takes a lot out of you. But, it's worth it."
Not only did the Kings come up short on the road for the first time in the postseason, but they lost back-to-back games in regulation for the first time since March 24 and 26.
"Sure, there is anxiety," said Williams, who had the lone goal for Los Angeles. "We haven't lost two games in a row. We've played pretty hard. This is the Stanley Cup Final -- it isn't supposed to be easy. This is a grind. They're a heck of a team over there with a lot of character and a lot of grit. They battled hard to keep that one-goal lead."
June 11: Game 6, at Staples Center
Kings 6, Devils 1
Los Angeles was not be denied again, as it made Steve Bernier pay dearly for a boarding penalty against Rob Scuderi in the opening period. Brown, Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis all scored during the five-minute power play as the Kings pulled away early to claim their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
The Kings entered the game just 9-for-85 with the man advantage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Brown, though, broke a scoreless tie with his first goal of the Final when he redirected a shot by Doughty at 11:03 of the first. He then picked up an assist as Carter deflected Brown's shot past Brodeur at 12:45 before Lewis made it 3-0 when he poked Dwight King's rebound home.
Carter tallied his second goal of the night 90 seconds into the second, but Henrique ended Quick's shutout bid when he made it 4-1 with 1:13 left in the period.