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June 4, 2014 | 1:57pm ET


The March of Las Cucarachas
 "We never say die. Someone described us as a bunch of cockroaches that don't go away."
  - Kings defenseman Alec Martinez, late Sunday night, June 1, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CA -- While their fans see them as something far more beautiful, Mr. Martinez has placed a moniker on his team that will be remembered years from now.

Though the Los Angeles Kings have hit the floor numerous times since mid-April, three 100-point teams, including the defending champions Chicago Blackhawks, did not possess the formula to exterminate them.

When the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks could not extinguish them when leading their series, the Blackhawks flipped the script and tried to lull them into a false sense of security of a 3-1 lead and almost pulled a rally executed against the Detroit Red Wings on their way to the 2013 Cup win.

But if you know anything about this Kings team, you know they never do anything easy. They struggled through an underachieving regular-season, continuing what seemed to be a never ending struggle to score. Though Coach Darryl Sutter reinforced the goal of winning the Pacific Division as the best path to return the Cup to the corner of 11th and Figueroa, they reverted to their 2012 path of finishing up the track to place them as the visiting team in all three playoffs series they've played.
 

Unlike their 2012 run, the Kings fell into a deep, dark hole against the Sharks and nothing short of a little sports history would stave off a first round elimination that could have resulted in numerous organizational changes in the summer.

But Sutter, who played line change roulette all season, made the bold decision to return captain Dustin Brown from a season-long bottom six banishment and installed him as the right wing alongside center Anze Kopitar and left wing Marian Gaborik.

The pairing wasn't effective with Mr. Game 7, Justin Williams, on the right flank and Brown's greater speed and net presence has been a major reason why Kopitar is the leading point man in the post-season and Gaborik is its top goal scorer.

This team is far from a one line team and their offensive depth is something we've never seen in the Dean Lombardi Administration.

To witness a Los Angeles team with the ability to outlast teams is a stunning reversal from the championship team whose singular mission was simple: potting two then locking down the opponent. That team had a younger Rob Scuderi, Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene of the backline and with the departure of the former and the aging of the remaining ones, this team has morphed into a style that can win a 5-4 game.

This highly-entertaining style has temporarily removed one staple of a Sutter press conference, "it's a 3-2 league" and we're all a little better for it.

The development of rookie wingers Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson is the second key to why the Kings stand four wins away from the Cup.

The rookies took a lot of Sutter tough love throughout the campaign, down the stretch of the regular season the gifted duo were granted fourth line status as Sutter relied on his veterans to shift this team into championship gear.

When that failed, Sutter finally trusted them to play flanking another sniper in Jeff Carter, the defining moment in which the Kings become a multi-line threat.

There's not a bigger testament to the depth of this team than the fact that Los Angeles knocked out the defending champs without a single goal from Anze Kopitar. While Kopitar deftly defended Jonathan Toews through seven games (an insurance goal in Game 1 and a fortuitous bounce on a powerplay in Game 7 was the only time Toews scored), emerging from any series with Kopitar getting shut out could only happen with the support of an effective second line.

While the Kings' star players are entering in the spotlight due to their second Final appearance in three seasons, this team has 17 players that raised the Cup in 2012 and they rely on that experience to keep calm as they continue their roller coaster ride towards a championship.

They've beat three 100-point teams and faced much more difficult competition than in 2012, this team never gets too high or low and the unsuspecting quote machine, defenseman Alec Martinez embodies the personality of the team.

Martinez was a valuable member of the 2012 team, playing on the third pairing and providing an accurate shot and mobility on the blueline. His 2013-14 season has mirrored the team, he's gone through an injury, a benching, a hot streak as well as stretches of ineffectiveness. His demeanor is reflective of this team, matter-of-fact when answering questions while avoiding cliches. His stick was the weapon that silenced the 22,000 at the United Center on Sunday night and his prior referenced quote to a common household pest has traveled much farther than his wrist shot that put the lights out in the Windy City.

"I think it's going to be a really good series. The one against Chicago was really great for the fans. As a player, I don't want to have to go through another one of those," Martinez joked. "It's important to enjoy the moment, but Game 1 is all business for us."

Martinez fully respects the New York Rangers. He knows they're not a fluke and when asked about the challenges of what King Henrik Lundqvist and his crew bring, he sees a similarity to their last opponent.

"They forecheck a lot like the Blackhawks did, they have guys that can put the puck in the net but the biggest similarity to Chicago is their speed," he said. "Our coaching staff has prepped us well for their tendencies and system. We played them a couple of times this season and we know we are in for a very big battle."

As for the personal success and being part of Kings' history via a deflected puck, Martinez shrugs it off.

"It won't mean anything unless we finish the job," he said. "As an athlete, you want to play in the big game. We faced a lot of adversity, but you're going to have to face that in playoff hockey. It IS the most exciting thing in sports."

So while scoring a series-ending goal wasn't a shocker, the distance the words he uttered in the celebratory and relieved locker room has surprised him.

"I really didn't think it would make the rounds and I can't take credit for it," he said. "As soon as I found out it was getting attention, I tried jogging my mind to find out where I heard it from. Maybe it was a buddy back home or someone in the room, but there are very few times where I would prefer to be called a cockroach. This is one case where I actually don't mind it."

We share Martinez's assessment that despite the Kings being in the unusual position of being favorites, the Final will be another difficult road for them. They've outlasted but not dominated teams and they face an opponent with strengths similar to what gave them fits in Round 3. Moreover, they will face the best goaltender they've seen in Lundqvist and a coach in Alain Vigneault who is very familiar with them and has beaten them in the playoffs. Add to that the emotional bonding created around the passing of Martin St. Louis' mother in the Conference Final round and in some ways, the Rangers are more dangerous than the Western foes the Kings have faced.

While it would not shock us if the Rangers ended a 20 year absence of the Stanley Cup on Broadway, pound-for-pound Los Angeles is the better team. They've swam with Sharks, waddled past Ducks and avoided a scalping at the hands of Blackhawks. They've survived like Martinez's favorite pest and the March of Las Cucaraches should conclude triumphantly in downtown Los Angeles through late June.

As we've done is every Los Angeles series in 2014, the prediction song remains the same: Kings in 6.

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.

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