By Susan Valot
Blue and green Canucks jerseys filled Rogers Arena in Vancouver for Game 5 of the first round of the playoffs. It was do-or-die time for Vancouver. The game headed into overtime. Vancouver turned over the puck. Kings forward Jarret Stoll sneaked the puck past Vancouver goaltender Cory Schneider for the goal that ended the game and the series.
In the Kings locker room after the game… elation. Kings captain Dustin Brown said it was about time for the team’s first playoff series win in 11 years.
“It’s huge. I’ve been here for 8, 9 years, and this is a pretty good feeling for a lot of guys in here,” he said. “Especially some of the guys that have been here for extended amounts of time, and it’s been a work in progress.”
Back at home, Kings fans watched, glued to their TVs. Among them, 22-year-old Liz Reuter is a lifelong Kings fan.“Oh, it was crazy. I was just screaming. I was screaming in the living room. My mom was yelling in the back,” she said. “And it was great to talk to other Kings fans and people are finally recognizing in LA, ‘Hey I hear the Kings are doing some great things.’ It’s good recognition for them.”
Reuter was among about 200 Kings fans who headed to LAX to greet the team when they got back from Vancouver. Kings color commentator Daryl Evans was there, too.
“As the players, left the airport, they were lined up on both sides of the street there and waving and yelling and screaming,” he said. “And it was just great to see – just the emotion and realize that these are people who are going to work the next day and they’re out there at 1 o’clock in the morning and, you know, just partaking in that.”
Evans knows what it’s like. He was a Kings forward from 1981-85, and part of the “Miracle on Manchester” Kings team that made an amazing comeback to defeat the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the 1982 playoffs. Those Kings were the underdogs, too. But Evans said it’s a different NHL now.
“You know, there’s so much more parity in the game today. You look at the Kings, No. 8 seed, against Vancouver, No. 1 seed, and really there’s only seven wins that separate the two teams in the standings. That’s how much parity there is in the game. Whereas the year we played against Edmonton, there were 46 points that separated the two teams.”
Some fans, like Glenn Fujikawa, who was present at Thursday’s practice, were surprised that the Kings pulled off a victory over Vancouver in the playoffs.
“Honestly, I was scared to death,” Fujikawa said. “I kept waiting for them to lose four in a row. After they lost Game 4, I’m thinking, ‘Oh no…’”
Fellow fan Bruce Stredwick sat a little ways down from Fujikawa in the stands, watching players run through drills.
“I was 15 years old when they became a team and now 45 years later, I’m 60. I’m still a fan. I’m still waiting for them to win the Cup. Just once in my lifetime, I want to see the Kings win the Cup,” he said.
Stredwick hopes that one time will be this postseason, but he’s worried about powerhouse Eastern Conference teams. Fujikawa sets the bar a little bit lower. He just wants a good series against St. Louis.
“If they go more than six [games], I’ll be happy. Probably. If they go six or seven, you know, I won’t be unhappy. If they get blown out in four, I’ll be bummed.”
The Kings-Blues series kicks off Saturday in St. Louis.