Bob Miller And Nick Nickson: 2012 Playoff Expectations Started Low For LA Kings, But Quickly Skyrocketed

FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: Even though only one pair of Los Angeles Kings broadcasters got to work throughout the playoffs this past season, they all had their own views on the Kings as they tore through the playoffs. But what is most interesting, although maybe not surprising, is that each of them had slightly different expectations going into the post-season. In part six of this series, play-by-play announcers Bob Miller and Nick Nickson share their thoughts on the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings, and their incredible run through the playoffs. Check back next week for what color commentators Daryl Evans and Jim Fox had to say on the topic.

After 39 years, Los Angeles Kings television play-by-play announcer
Bob Miller got his opportunity to hoist the Stanley Cup after the Kings
won it for the first time in franchise history on June 11, 2012, with
radio play-by-play announcer Nick Nickson (left), and team
captain Dustin Brown (right) looking on.
(click above to view larger image)
Photo courtesy Bob Miller
LOS ANGELES — Nine months ago, despite sky high expectations, the Los Angeles Kings were not scoring goals, and, as a result, were struggling to remain in contention for a playoff berth.

But a coaching change, the recall of two forwards from the minor leagues who no one expected anything from, and a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline, combined to help lead the Kings from being on the verge of missing the post-season to the first Stanley Cup Championship in the 45-year history of the franchise.

Looking back to December, “bleak” does not begin to describe the Kings’ outlook, even though they were still not far from playoff contention.

“We’re in December, we’re firing the coach, we’re not playing well, and what really made it disappointing [was that] we were touted, at the start of the season, as being contenders for the Cup, and we [weren’t] seeing anything,” said the Voice of the Kings, television play-by-play announcer Bob Miller. “I remember saying, ‘we’re not going to see it.’”

“It’s one thing to hope that we’re going to be contenders all year long, and look like we’re going to do something in the playoffs,” added Miller, who is entering his 40th season with the Kings. “We all hope that. But the reality is, we weren’t seeing that. If we were, we wouldn’t have fired a coach in December. So, it wasn’t only me, it was other people in the organization saying the same thing, ‘something’s wrong here.’ We should’ve been better than that, so management decided that we’ve got to do something here. We were better after Darryl [Sutter] took over [as head coach in late December], but even then, we weren’t dominating.”

To be honest with you, I [went in] thinking, it would be nice to get to the second round, and see what happens. But to lead every series, 3-0, to win ten straight on the road, to be the only [eighth seed] to win the Cup, I defy anyone to tell you that they would predict that going into the playoffs.

— Bob Miller

As reported earlier, even though the Kings were playing poorly, and were closer to dropping out of playoff contention than they were to being a serious contender in the National Hockey League‘s Western Conference, they were far from being out of the playoff picture.

“I remember we were talking after games during the regular season,” said radio play-by-play announcer Nick Nickson. “We were dead last in goals, but we were in every game because of [goaltender Jonathan] Quick. We kept saying that if [center Jarret] Stoll, [left wing Dustin] Penner, [forward Dustin] Brown and [center Anze] Kopitar—if these guys start scoring like they can score, we’re going to be a good team.”

“We’re [were] already a very good defensive team,” added Nickson, who has been behind the microphone with the Kings for 31 seasons. “It really didn’t happen until the final six weeks of the season.”

But even then, just squeaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the West was not a good reason to expect post-season greatness.

“Even down to the last week [of the regular season], we’re hoping, ‘let’s just squeak in, and see what happens,’ said Miller. “But even then, we’re thinking, ‘maybe we can win the first round.’”

“It might’ve been different in locker room, and Darryl may have had them believing more than that, but to be honest with you, I [went in] thinking, it would be nice to get to the second round, and see what happens,” added Miller. “But to lead every series, 3-0, to win ten straight on the road, to be the only [eighth seed] to win the Cup, I defy anyone to tell you that they would predict that going into the playoffs.”

Despite the low expectations, a different Kings team emerged when the playoffs began.

“You’re thinking, ‘let’s see if we can get one in Vancouver, and come home,’” Miller noted. “Then we get two, and the feeling is, ‘maybe we can do this,’ especially by scoring shorthanded goals, and getting on [Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto] Luongo. We’re thinking, ‘maybe something can happen here.’”

“The first two games in Vancouver, to me, were the two key games that showed this team that we can win, we can play, and we can beat some teams, and we just took off from there,” Miller added. “I’m convinced that those two wins up there gave the Kings the confidence they needed, and then, they won Game 3 here. The only thing I thought there was, ‘I hate to go back to Vancouver and give them a foot in the door. Just don’t lose Game 4 to them and have to go back.’ But we won [the series] in overtime [in Game 5 back in Vancouver].”

“The guys who stepped up in that series set the tone for the entire playoffs. Brown, Kopitar, guys on defense, [like Willie] Mitchell. It was like, ‘we can win here.’ Of course, Quick was great throughout the whole series.”

In all the years I’ve covered the Kings, there have been games where you thought that the Kings didn’t have a chance to win. There were games where you would hope they would win, and there were games where you knew they could win. After the Kings were up, 2-0, in the St. Louis series, from that point on, I expected them to win every night.

— Nick Nickson

After dispatching the Canucks in five games, the Kings made even quicker work of their second round opponent, the St. Louis Blues, in a four-game sweep.

“The most improbable thing to me was sweeping St. Louis,” said Miller. “Darryl Sutter told me on the plane, before the playoffs started, one of the flight attendants asked him, ‘who do you want to play in the playoffs,’ and I’m thinking, ‘let’s hear this answer!’”

“He said, ‘well, I don’t want to play St. Louis,’ so then, when we swept St. Louis, I’m thinking, ‘wow, here’s a team he thought we would struggle against,’” added Miller. “I voted for [Blues head coach] Ken Hitchcock for coach of the year. I thought, ‘he’ll have them ready to go.’ That might’ve been the most surprising thing in the playoffs, the sweep of St. Louis.”

“The four goals in the first period against St. Louis, in [Game 2 on April 30, 2012] in St. Louis—to me, when I’m watching that, [I’m thinking], ‘we’re demoralizing this team.’ We thought they were going to beat us, but we got four goals in a period. I’m thinking, ‘wow, this is really going to be something.’”

Nickson indicated that the St. Louis series is when the Kings really began to turn some heads, and that once they got past the Blues, one would not have been way out in left field thinking that the Kings were the favorite to win the Stanley Cup.

“Because of their level of play throughout the post-season, I think people became believers early in the St. Louis series, and after they beat St. Louis, if you’re playing Phoenix with a chance to go to the Finals, you’ve got to like your chances—nothing against Phoenix—especially the way we were playing, and then they won the first two games in Phoenix,” said Nickson. “You’re adding more believers there.”

The Phoenix Coyotes won the Pacific Division crown, beating out the Kings for the top spot at the end of the regular season. But the Kings turned the tables on them in a big way in the Western Conference Finals.

“[Against] Phoenix, the first two games, we were so dominant,” Miller noted. “They didn’t have a chance. I have a friend who’s a Phoenix fan. He goes to all the games. He called me afterwards [and said], ‘holy cow! You guys put on a clinic in those two games. We weren’t even close. We weren’t even in the games.’”

“That was impressive, in Phoenix, because we haven’t always dominated in Phoenix, and to play that well—it was textbook,” Miller added.

The Kings eliminated the Coyotes in five games, and headed to Newark to face the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, winning Games 1 and 2 in overtime.

It was after the win in Game 2 that some finally thought the Kings really were going to win the Stanley Cup.

“The clincher for me was when [forward Jeff] Carter scored the overtime goal in New Jersey in Game 2,” said Nickson. “Kopitar scored the overtime winner in Game 1, but when Carter scored in overtime, I kind of thought to myself, ‘this is going to happen.’”

“This puts it in perspective: my oldest son was in his car, on the 405 [the San Diego Freeway here in the Los Angeles area], listening to the end of Game 2, in New Jersey, when Carter scored,” added Nickson. “He had to pull off the freeway, because, I think, what he was feeling was what I was feeling, that the Kings are going to win this thing. They [were leading the series], 2-0, on the road, in the Stanley Cup Final. It is going to happen.”

“I think a lot of fans who were listening or watching that night, when that puck went in [after] Carter shot it, deep down, they thought, ‘my goodness…it’s going to happen!’”

But even before the Kings reached the Stanley Cup Final, they were playing so well in the post-season that they gave Nickson a feeling that he had never experienced before.

“The way they were playing—and I’ve said this a number of times throughout the summer—in all the years I’ve covered the Kings, there have been games where you thought that the Kings didn’t have a chance to win,” added Nickson. “There were games where you would hope they would win, and there were games where you knew they could win. After the Kings were up, 2-0, in the St. Louis series, from that point on, I expected them to win every night.”

“That’s how well I thought they were playing. It wasn’t that I knew that they could win, it was that I expected them to win, and I can’t ever remember having a feeling like that for a Kings team, even going back to the some of the good teams, even during the 1993 Finals. I don’t ever recall having that kind of feeling.”

Going 10-0 on the road in the playoffs before the Stanley Cup Final certainly had a lot to do with those feelings.

“I remember having dinner with Bob [Miller] and [television color commentator] Jim [Fox] in New Jersey before Game 5,” said Nickson. I said, ‘can a team go 10-0 on the road in the playoffs and not win the Stanley Cup?’”

“Because the Kings were playing so well, and so consistently from the start of the playoffs, every time they won a game, and kept going up, 2-0 or 3-0 in a series, I think it made believers out of most of the fans,” added Nickson. “I would be shocked if there were fans out there, when the Kings went up, 2-0 [in the series] against New Jersey, who didn’t think the Kings were going to win the Stanley Cup. That’s the feel I got from people around [Staples Center] throughout the playoffs.”

Nickson pointed out that the Kings’ top players outplayed their counterparts in every playoff series, helping drive those expectations higher and higher.

“The way Quick was playing, and in almost every game, certainly in every series, our best players outplayed the other team’s best players,” Nickson stressed. “If you analyze it, series-to-series, there’s no question about that. Kopitar, Brown and [center Mike] Richards were better than the Sedins, [Alexander] Burrows and [Ryan] Kesler in round 1, better than [David] Backes, [Andy] McDonald and [T.J.] Oshie in round 2, better than [Shane] Doan, [Ray] Whitney and whomever in round 3, better than [Ilya] Kovalchuk, [Zach] Parise and [Adam] Henrique—and Quick was better than any of the goaltenders.”

“Because they established that pattern so early in the playoffs and maintained that level of play—and I go back to that St. Louis series early on—I wouldn’t say it publicly [at the time], but I expected them to win, every night,” Nickson added. “Because that’s a feeling I’ve never had before in 31 years of following the Kings, I wasn’t looking back to ‘well, we’ve been here in this year, or that year, and it didn’t happen.’ I wasn’t thinking that way.”

While the Kings’ top players shined, the rest of their teammates weren’t too shabby, either.

“17 players scored goals, and the one player [who played throughout the post-season] that didn’t score was [defenseman Rob] Scuderi, who took one for the team in Game 6, and what can you say about Quick? It certainly was a team effort, from that standpoint,” Nickson noted. “But if you analyze how every Kings player [performed] in the playoffs compared to the regular season, everybody played as well as, or better than, he did during the regular season.”

“Usually, when a team wins the Cup, there’s three or four guys who didn’t do very much, [former Colorado Avalanche superstars Joe] Sakic and [Peter] Forsberg were great every night, [and so on],” Nickson added. “But look at a guy like [Kings forward] Trevor Lewis. His first two-goal game is in Game 6 of the Final. He had more points in the playoffs than he did during the regular season. [Defenseman] Alec Martinez never played better. Penner and Stoll, who had the worst regular seasons of their careers, wiped that off the slate [by scoring] huge goals.”

In the end, the Kings won their first Stanley Cup in dominating fashion, tearing through the post-season with an astounding 16-4 record after just barely squeaking into the playoffs—almost missing them altogether.

Indeed, it was an unbelievable, fairy tale ending to a season.

“Winning the Cup this way was even more memorable because it came out of nowhere,” Miller emphasized. “If we had just gone through the whole regular season with long winning streaks, great special teams, and everything, people would’ve said, ‘I expected them to win.’ The way we went [into the playoffs], at that point, to play like that, it made winning the Cup even more memorable.”

“It’s just remarkable, when you look back at it, how they did it,” Nickson stressed. “It’s great that they won it. But it’s [not just] that they won it, it’s how they did it, and it’s been well-documented, but the eighth seed knocking off the [top three seeds] may never happen again. Going up 3-0 in all four series may never happen again, and going 10-0 on the road to start the playoffs may never happen again.”

“There was so much that’s part of it that just makes you shake your head.”

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