From peasants to Kings – Five LA stories of perseverance and success

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Professional sports can be inspirational as much as they are entertaining. After all, they’re made up of people with the courage to follow their dreams and the will to work hard through the good and the bad.

The Stanley Cup-winning 2012 Los Angeles Kings are full of such players, but five in particular stand out for sticking it out through the tough times.

Here are their stories:

Willie Mitchell — The Kings are, for the most part, a young team. However, they do have a few veterans and Mitchell is the most prominent of them. The fact that he’s won his first Cup at the age of 35 is significant enough, but it wasn’t long ago when his career was in jeopardy.

His 2009-10 campaign ended on Jan. 16 because of a concussion and, at the age of 33, he had to find a new employer willing to accept the fact that he was coming off of a head injury. Under the circumstances, the Kings took a risk when they signed him to a two-year, $7 million deal back in the summer of 2010, but it’s one that has paid off handsomely.

Dustin Penner — Earlier this season, Penner was a joke. A punchline. The guy that got hurt while eating pancakes. The guy that, in February, was taken out of the lineup because, in the words of Sutter, he “was horse(crap).” He was arguably one of the most overpaid players in the sport.

He’s also now a two-time Stanley Cup champion and not just because he was on a good team. Penner found redemption — in fact, he called it “vindication” — in the 2012 playoffs and became one of the Kings most potent offensive weapons. As Kings GM Dean Lombardi colorfully put it, “I kid him now; he went from BP — like the oil spill — to BP — as in Big Play Penner.”

Darryl Sutter — When the 2011-12 campaign began, it looked like his days in the spotlight were behind him. In December of 2010, he resigned as the general manager of the Calgary Flames after making a number of questionable moves, including the trading of Dion Phaneuf to Toronto for what ultimately amounted to nothing.

A year later, however, Kings GM Dean Lombardi offered to put his friend in a position he’d found much more success in: behind the bench.

“Oh, seems like a long time ago, middle of December, whenever it was,” Sutter said. “But you know what, you look at the big picture now, and I was right on how I thought about what type of players these guys were.”

He proved to be the missing piece of the Kings’ puzzle, leading them to a 25-13-11 record in the regular season and, of course, their first Stanley Cup.

Dustin Brown — It’s hard to believe at this point, but the Kings captain was seen as something of a disappointment earlier this season. It got to the point where, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Brown was “absolutely” being shopped by Los Angeles.

It just goes to show that sometimes the best move is the one you don’t make. Brown caught fire in late February and was a big factor in the Kings’ playoff run.

He got three points in Game 6 of the finals and became just the second American captain to win the Stanley Cup.

Jeff Carter — His story is perhaps the most popular out of those on this list. He’s a guy who, as recently as last year, probably thought he’d be a life-long Flyer. After all, you don’t sign an 11-year contract if you don’t feel a sense of loyalty and comfort with a franchise.

All the same, Philadelphia decided to go in a different direction and suddenly Carter found himself playing for the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets. He battled through injuries as well as a significant amount of shock and disappointment before he was traded again. This time he found himself in Los Angeles where he was reunited with former Flyers teammate Mike Richards.

Carter went on to play a key role for the Kings, scoring a number of big goals during their run to the Cup.

The Buzzer: Thornton moves up all-time scoring list; Kings snap six-game losing skid

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Players of the Night:

Brian Elliott looked solid in Philadelphia’s overtime win over the Capitals, as he turned aside 27 of 28 shots. This was the first time in eight games that the Flyers netminder allowed fewer than three goals in a game, but he’s still been victorious in three of his last four outings.

• How about that goalie duel between Connor Hellebuyck and Anders Nilsson. The Jets won the game, but both goaltenders were fantastic during this all-Canadian matchup.

• Sticking with the goalie theme, Aaron Dell was fantastic between the pipes for in San Jose’s win against Anaheim. Even when starter Martin Jones comes back from a lower-body injury, Dell should continue to be a factor for the Sharks.

• Sharks forward Mikkel Boedker had a solid night at the office, as he racked up two goals and an assist against the Ducks. That’s impressive considering he only had 12 points on the season coming into tonight’s action.

• The Kings’ power play isn’t a player, but it came to play tonight against the Rangers. Los Angeles got three goals on the man-advantage from Jake Muzzin, Michael Amadio and Tanner Pearson. Those three power play markers helped them snap their six-game losing skid.

Highlights:

Poor Markus Granlund never saw Hellebuyck coming:

That’s a pretty sweet shot from Kevin Labanc:

Here are two pretty sweet backhand passes leading up to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s goal:

Alex Ovechkin scored a power play from his favorite spot on the ice:

Non-called Penalty of the Night:

That’s a pretty dangerous hit by Dmitry Orlov on Claude Giroux. No boarding call?

Factoids:

That’s a lot of power play goals for Ovechkin:

Joe Thornton keeps movin’ on up:

The Rangers have received some balanced scoring this season:

The Golden Knights simply can’t be stopped. What a season they’re having:

Scores:

Flyers 2, Capitals 1 (OT)

Golden Knights 5, Hurricanes 1

Jets 1, Canucks 0

Sharks 6, Ducks 2

Kings 4, Rangers 2

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Fight Video: Kempe comes to Lewis’ defense by dropping gloves with Smith

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It’s not every day that you see Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe drop the gloves, but he did so against the Rangers tonight.

Things got chippy at the end of the first period between the Rangers and Kings. As both teams were mixing it up, New York’s Brendan Smith shoved Trevor Lewis from behind. Kempe wasn’t impressed with Smith’s move, so he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Here’s Smith’s shove on Lewis:

And this is the fight between Smith and Kempe:

(h/t: hayyyshayyy on Twitter)

As you can tell from the above video, Smith is the more experienced fighter. Also, Kempe has great hair, but it’s clearly not practical when dropping the gloves.

Thanks to Smith, the Kings got a power play to start the second period. Defenseman Jake Muzzin cashed in on the man-advantage to cut Los Angeles’ deficit to 2-1.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Expansion Golden Knights are officially in first place (Update)

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Just like we all predicted in September, the Vegas Golden Knights are sitting in first place in the NHL.

The Golden Knights’ 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes allowed them to collect their 65th and 66th points of the season, which moved them one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning for top spot in the league (both teams have played 46 games).

PHT’s Adam Gretz wrote a terrific piece about Golden Knights’ amazing first season to date.

It’s only fitting that Vegas got a good amount of production from some of their most pleasant surprises tonight. Jonathan Marchessault, Colin Miller and James Neal also found the back of the net.

As you’d expect, the Golden Knights’ Twitter account is having fun marking this occasion.

“Maybe a little unexpected, right?,” Marc-Andre Fleury said of his team’s success, per NHL.com. “It’s been a lot of fun. We started this team from scratch and chemistry was built very quick between us. Every night, all the guys bring their best effort. I’m proud of our team to be where we’re at right now.”

We’ve had over three months to come to grips with everything the Golden Knights have done, but it’s still amazing to see how some of the players on their roster have produced during Vegas’ inaugural season.

 

43 points in 43 games for Marchessault? 25 goals at the midway point of the season for William Karlsson? Nobody saw those things coming. What makes this even more impressive is that they’ve had to roll four goalies (Fleury, Oscar Dansk, Malcolm Subban and Maxime Lagace).

“Early on in the year, I think we surprised some teams. Now I think every team will get up to play us. It’s just something that will be another test for this group,” Miller told NHL.com.

Now the question is, how far can this pesky expansion team go?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Struggling Lightning lose Ondrej Palat for indefinite period of time

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The Tampa Bay Lightning have been going through a difficult stretch lately and things got a lot more difficult on Sunday. The team announced that Ondrej Palat is out indefinitely after taking a spear from Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon on Saturday night.

The Bolts, who are on an eight-game road trip, have confirmed that Palat will head back to Tampa on Monday for further testing. He’s accumulated eight goals and 30 points in 46 games this season.

Although the video isn’t the clearest, this is the play that led to the injury:

The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time, as the Lightning have been slumping badly of late. They’ve dropped three games in a row to Calgary, Vegas and Minnesota.

Their once giant lead atop the Atlantic Division has dwindled to three points over the Boston Bruins, who have a game in hand.

“We’re just out of synch, it’s unreal,” head coach Jon Cooper said, per The Tampa Times. “The guys didn’t forget how to play hockey in the last week and a half. We’re just out of synch. One guy zigs, the other guy zags. It’s crazy that in the last week and a half, we kind of lost our swag.”

The Bolts will continue their road trip in Chicago, Nashville and Philadelphia before the All-Star break. On top of their difficult schedule, they’ll also be without number one defenseman Victor Hedman for the next few weeks.

Their spot in the playoffs isn’t in any danger, but the number one seed in the league (Vegas is coming in a hurry) and top spot in the division is in doubt.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.