The Los Angeles Kings may have surprised even themselves last spring by becoming the lowest-seeded team in history to win the Stanley Cup. Now, after a compressed regular season, during which they had their ups and downs, the Kings are poised to show they can do it again.
Unlike last spring, when the franchise had never won it all since entering the NHL in 1967, the Kings come into this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs as defending champions. They know what they have to do, and that they're capable of doing it. There's no one on this team who doesn't think Los Angeles can become the first repeat champion since the 1997 and '98 Detroit Red Wings.
You can't win a championship without goaltending, and the Kings have one of the NHL's best in net.
Jonathan Quick went from the ECHL to the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP in four years and gave one of the greatest performances by a goaltender in Stanley Cup history last spring. He underwent offseason back surgery and got off to a slow start, but he appears to be rounding into form as the end of the regular season approached. There's no reason to believe he won't give the Kings solid goaltending, night in and night out.
Even better for the Kings is the team's offensive improvement. Last season, the club's offense was ranked No. 29 in the regular season. This season, the Kings are a half-goal per game better than that mark. The team has a solid top-two pair of centers, Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards, as well as productive wings Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams. Carter is the top goal-scorer in the Western Conference and a weapon on the power play.
The defense has a good mixture of puck movers and shutdown defenders. Jake Muzzin and Slava Voynov have taken a lot of the offensive pressure off Drew Doughty, who was the best defenseman in last spring's playoffs. Matt Greene's return from a back injury and the late-season addition of Robyn Regehr should give Quick some more help in his own zone. Doughty played his best offensive hockey of the season in April; the Kings need him to step up his game the way he did a year ago.
The Kings still possess most of the same cast members that ground down four opponents last spring. Jordan Nolan, Dwight King, Kyle Clifford and Brad Richardson made life miserable for opponents for two months. Their size and strength should make them a factor again this year.
Top-flight goaltenders steal wins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and with Quick, the Kings have someone who's proven he can do that. Add in one of the NHL's top young puck-moving defensemen (Doughty), an excellent one-two punch down the middle (Kopitar and Richards), a pure goal scorer (Carter), and a grinding team that's built perfectly for the postseason, and you have a group that will bring the Stanley Cup back to the City of Angels and make the Kings the NHL's first repeat champion in 15 years.