L.A. Kings end 45-year Stanley Cup drought

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L.A. Kings end 45-year Stanley Cup drought

From Comcast SportsNet
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Dustin Brown practically snatched the Stanley Cup away from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, skating directly to center ice and thrusting it skyward. Forgive his haste. The Los Angeles Kings' captain had only been waiting his whole life for this moment. The Kings' long-suffering fans had been waiting nearly 45 years for somebody to lift that 36-pound silver trophy and remove the burden on a franchise that had never won an NHL title. Brown, MVP goalie Jonathan Quick and the late-blooming Kings never flinched under all that weight. After an unbelievable postseason run that ended in a triumphant flurry of blood, sweat and power-play goals in Game 6, they're all champions. Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis scored two goals apiece, Quick finished his Conn Smythe Trophy-winning performance with 17 saves, and the Kings beat the New Jersey Devils 6-1 Monday night, becoming the first eighth-seeded playoff team to win the Stanley Cup finals. When Lewis scored into Martin Brodeur's empty net with 3:45 to play, the Kings' decades of tension and frustration finally turned into raw anticipation. After 45 years of existence, one tumultuous regular season and two missed chances to clinch the Cup, the Kings knew they were about to be champions for the first time. Even the sober, serious Quick got happy. "You get that four-goal lead, you know, it's hard for it not to creep into your head a little bit," he said. "That's when you take a big, deep breath, relax a little bit, and know it's going to happen." The Kings can exhale. They're reigning over the NHL for the first time. Brown had a goal and two assists for Los Angeles, which ended its spectacular 16-4 postseason run in front of a crowd including several dozen Kings faithful who have been at rinkside since the team's birth in the Second Six expansion in 1967. "Every single guy worked so hard for us this season," said defenseman Drew Doughty, who began the year as a contract holdout and finished with six points in the finals, including two assists in the clincher. "Everyone deserves this. We got used to each other, we developed a chemistry, and we just went sailing from there." After taking a 3-0 series lead and then losing two potential clinching games last week, the Kings finished ferociously at Staples Center just when the sixth-seeded Devils appeared capable of matching the biggest comeback in finals history. One penalty abruptly changed the tone of the series. Brown, Carter and Lewis scored during a five-minute power play in the first period after Steve Bernier was ejected for boarding Rob Scuderi, leaving the veteran defenseman in a pool of blood. Quick took it from there, finishing a star-making two months by allowing just seven goals in six finals games. "You never know. You get to the dance, you never know what's going to happen," Brown said. "We calmed down after losing two. It was the first time we had done that all playoffs, and we finally got off to a good start." Rookie Adam Henrique ended Quick's shutout bid late in the second period after the Kings had built a 4-0 lead, but Lewis and Matt Greene added late goals. Brodeur stopped 19 shots for the Eastern Conference champion Devils, just the third team to force a Game 6 in the finals after falling into an 0-3 hole. "It's disappointing, but it's been a great season for the Devils," the 40-year-old Brodeur said. "We came a long way to challenge for the Stanley Cup from not making the playoffs last year. There's only one team that can win. It's not us this time, but we're proud of what we've done." The Kings steamrolled everyone in their path after barely making the playoffs, eliminating the top three seeds in the Western Conference in overwhelming fashion as they matched the second-fastest run to a title in modern NHL history. Although the Devils gave them a little trouble, the Kings boasted a talented, balanced roster that peaked at the absolute perfect time under midseason coaching hire Darryl Sutter. Quick is the third American-born Conn Smythe winner, adding one more dominant game to a run in which he set NHL records for save percentage (.946) and goals-against average (1.41) among goalies who played at least 15 postseason games. Brown, just the second American-born captain to raise the Cup after Dallas' Derian Hatcher, capped his own impressive playoff work by finishing with 20 points, tied for the postseason scoring lead with linemate Anze Kopitar. And don't forget: Brown accomplished what even Wayne Gretzky couldn't do in eight years in Los Angeles by lifting the Cup. Brown handed off the trophy to Willie Mitchell, the 35-year-old defenseman who had never won a title. Mitchell gave it to long-injured and recently returned forward Simon Gagne, who nearly tripped before raising the Cup for the first time. Sutter, the stone-faced Alberta farmer from a family of hockey-playing brothers, smiled like a kid at his first chance to lift the prize. Later, Brown and Justin Williams sat their crying children in the Cup, and Kopitar -- the first Slovenian NHL champion -- raised it while wearing a gold crown on his head. After going on a 12-2 tear to the Western Conference title, the Kings won the first two games of the finals in overtime by identical 2-1 scores in New Jersey. Los Angeles then flattened the Devils 4-0 in Game 3, but missed its first chance to clinch on home ice in New Jersey's 3-1 win in Game 4. The Devils then beat Los Angeles 2-1 in Game 5, earning another cross-country trip after becoming the first team since 1945 to win twice after falling behind 0-3 in the finals. The Kings were the West's bottom seed after failing to clinch a playoff berth until right before their 81st game, but only because they underachieved for much of the season, spending most of it as the NHL's lowest-scoring team. The talent coalesced under Sutter, who replaced the fired Terry Murray shortly before Christmas and turned Los Angeles into a competent offensive club by late February. Five years after the Anaheim Ducks won California's first Stanley Cup, the Golden State's oldest team raised the second. The Kings also are the first team to win the Cup at home since those Ducks, and their fans appreciated the Hollywood touch. Despite coming off their first back-to-back losses of the playoffs, the Kings started with impressive energy in Game 6, getting most of the good early scoring chances -- and then they got the break they needed when Bernier pushed Scuderi headfirst into the boards behind Quick's net. Scuderi stayed motionless for quite a while, eventually heading to the dressing room after leaving plenty of blood from his lacerated nose. Bernier, a 27-year-old journeyman and depth forward with two goals in 24 playoff games this season, went to the locker room. The Devils complained Jarret Stoll received no penalty for checking Stephen Gionta into the boards between the benches a moment earlier. "I wish I could take that play back," Bernier said. "I didn't want to hurt my team. I wanted to help them. This is extremely hard. It's been a long playoff run for us. To finish on that note, it's not fun for sure. But there's nothing I can do now." Brown scored 53 seconds into the power play, slickly redirecting Doughty's low pass in front for his first goal since the Western Conference finals opener. Carter then deflected home his seventh goal of the postseason after Brown walked the puck out of the corner and fired a shot at Brodeur's glove side while skating away from the net. With the Los Angeles crowd on its feet, the Kings added another as rookie Dwight King ferociously drove the net and left a rebound for Lewis, who tucked it home for his first goal in 18 games. Staples Center was deafening for the rest of the first period, and Los Angeles went up 4-0 just 90 seconds into the second when Brown found Carter unchecked in the slot for a one-timer. "It's pretty awesome," Sutter said. "It's the feeling of seeing them so happy, the work that you go through. The first thing you think about as a coach -- these guys are all young enough, they've got to try it again." NOTES: Linemates Brown and Kopitar finished tied for the NHL postseason scoring lead with 20 points in 20 games, and fellow first-liner Williams had 11 points in the final 14 games, finishing with 15 points. ... New Jersey LW Ilya Kovalchuk, who spurned the Kings' advances two years ago to sign with the Devils, managed just one empty-net goal in six finals games. Captain Zach Parise scored his only finals point on a Game 5 goal off a misplay by Quick. ... My Chemical Romance attended the game. Their song, "Welcome to the Black Parade," has become the black-jerseyed Kings' unofficial anthem after its incorporation into a clever pregame video featuring photos of several Kings as kids.

PFF ranks Illini's Dawuane Smoot the 20th-best player in college football

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PFF ranks Illini's Dawuane Smoot the 20th-best player in college football

Pro Football Focus released its list of the 101 best players in college football Monday, and all the usual suspects were present: Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State — the teams most believe will compete for a Big Ten title.

So when an Illinois player popped up in the top 20, there were plenty of eyebrows shooting up.

Now, just because the Illini likely won't challenge for a conference championship in Lovie Smith's first year at the helm doesn't mean that defensive end Dawuane Smoot isn't the 20th-best player in college football. Pro Football Focus is quite high on Smoot, with their intricate grading system rating him as one of the top-10 pass-rushers in the country last season, when he finished with eight sacks, good for sixth in the Big Ten. He was fifth in the conference with 15 tackles for loss, forced three fumbles and recovered two more. It all would indicate that a big 2016 campaign is on the way, and PFF is expecting that, too, putting him at No. 18 in its 2017 mock draft.

But PFF isn't alone in being high on Smoot. Smith feels the same way, saying earlier this offseason that he believed Smoot would be a first-round draft pick. And he should know after his many years in the NFL.

So is Smoot heading for a monster 2016, All-Big Ten honors and the NFL Draft? It seems like plenty think so, with Smoot placing higher in PFF's rankings than many other Big Ten stars.

Here's a look at who from the conference cracked PFF's top 101, and prepare yourself for a heaping helping of the Michigan defense.

7. Jourdan Lewis, DB, Michigan
9. Desmond King, DB, Iowa
16. Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan
20. Dawuane Smoot, DE, Illinois
23. Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
27. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
29. Pat Elflein, OL, Ohio State
31. Chris Wormley, DE, Michigan
32. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
34. Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State
43. Vince Biegel, LB, Wisconsin
63. Jake Replogle, DT, Purdue
72. Ryan Glasgow, DT, Michigan
90. Nate Gerry, DB, Nebraska
99. Darius Hamilton, DT, Rutgers
100. Ed Davis, LB, Michigan State

Notably absent from the list were Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett and Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker, who will be among the favorites for conference player of the year honors on their respective sides of the ball.

Bulls: Fred Hoiberg, Gar Forman excited for Denzel Valentine's versatility

Bulls: Fred Hoiberg, Gar Forman excited for Denzel Valentine's versatility

The Bulls introduced their newest member on Monday at the Advocate Center.

Denzel Valentine, the Bulls' first-round draft pick, showed off his new No. 45 Bulls jersey for the first time in Chicago.

See what Gar Forman, Fred Hoiberg and Valentine had to say in the video above.

Blackhawks announce 2016 Prospect Camp details

Blackhawks announce 2016 Prospect Camp details

The Blackhawks announced Monday that they will hold their 2016 Prospect Camp from July 10-15 at Johnny's IceHouse West. Roster information and practice times have yet to be determined.

Prospects such as recently-drafted Alex DeBrincat, Gustav Forsling, Ryan Hartman, Tyler Motte, Ville Pokka and Nick Schmaltz figure to headline the group, and there may not be a more important camp over the last half decade than this one.

With the Blackhawks up against the salary cap and the offseason departures of Andrew Shaw and Teuvo Teravainen, there are opportunities up and down the roster for young players to step up in larger roles.

General manager Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville both acknowledged over the weekend that they will look for solutions to fill out the rest of the lineup from within, first and foremost.

"Part of the thing you have to look at for the future is, you have to give the young players that are in our system that have been waiting patiently, you have to have some spots for them to be able to earn and I think more than ever we're going to have opportunities," Bowman said after Day 1 of the NHL Draft.

Prospect camp will serve as a chance for guys to make a strong first impression.