LOS ANGELES -- Maybe the true nature of this Los Angeles Kings team was revealed in the moment captain Dustin Brown took the victory lap with the Stanley Cup and then handed it to a player who hadn't been on the ice in weeks, Robyn Regehr.
"It took 15 years for me to get the opportunity to do that," said Regehr, who watched in civilian clothes while his Kings came from behind (and do we even need to put in the obligatory "again"?) to defeat the plucky New York Rangers 3-2 in double overtime in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals Friday night at Staples Center to secure their second Stanley Cup in three years. "It was an amazing feeling."
Maybe the measure of this team that traveled such a different path to the top of the hockey world this spring is the genuine awe in defenseman Jake Muzzin's voice as he tried to describe the moment of hoisting the Cup over his head for the first time.
"I don't know. It's a feeling that you just -- I didn't know what to do," said Muzzin, who was among those young players who gave this Kings team such a different feel than the team that gave the franchise its first championship. "Cry. Laugh. Jeez. It's just it's unbelievable it's actually here and it happened and it's crazy."
Two years ago, the playoffs were a coming-out party for the Kings, who never trailed in a series and jumped out to 3-0 series leads in all four rounds.
This spring, it was a statement from the Kings team that they are here to stay. It was a statement that was in many ways infinitely more difficult to make.
"I think two years ago, it was a little easier when we were up 3-0 in every series," said Kyle Clifford, who was among the best Kings in Game 5. "This was a little more adversity that we faced this year, and it made it a little more fun."
Against his chest in a Kings-themed infant sling was his son, wearing King socks and jersey, who was born during the first round of the playoffs against the San Jose Sharks. That would be the series in which the Kings fell behind 3-0 and staged a historic comeback. They would fall behind again against the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks before winning the first three games of this final series against the New York Rangers.
"It definitely puts things in a different perspective with how hard it was, not that it wasn't hard two years ago, but we had to go through so much this year with the comebacks and the battles and the teams we played," said center Jarret Stoll. "It was a long road. It took everybody."
Two years ago, the Kings rolled through teams with superlative goaltending from Jonathan Quick, who would earned playoff MVP honors with a gaudy .946 save percentage and stifling defense. This year, the team was built differently, perhaps showing more flaws, but was more impressive for its abilities to overcome those flaws.
Quick was ordinary at times, as his 2.24 goals-against average suggests. But he was also stellar when he needed to be, as in during the first two overtime periods in Game 5 when he allowed his team a chance to close out the Rangers. And facing one of the top goaltenders of this generation in Henrik Lundqvist, Quick was better when he had to be.
A kind of yin to that yang was the fact that this squad was far more offensively explosive this spring, averaging 3.38 goals per game. Among the contributors to that new element to this version of the Kings were youngsters Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, who combined for 11 goals and 15 assists, including Toffoli's assist on the overtime winner by Alec Martinez in spite of the fact both spent time in the minors this season.
"Crazy. This year itself has been crazy, but to get the chance and to win it, it's definitely a dream come true," said Pearson.
For much of the regular season, one wondered if the mix would yield these kinds of results as the team settled into the lower half of the Pacific Division standings. But the mix of talented youth and battle-tested veterans proved its mettle this spring.
"It's a blend. You've got to have a special blend," Muzzin explained. "We've got guys that have been around, they've seen it all, done it all, won, lost. It helps with the younger guys coming in giving them advice on what to expect and how to handle it."
You watch the ice at Staples Center, crowded with happy family members and team officials and the media and, of course, the Stanley Cup making its rounds, thousands of Kings fans still in the stands sharing the moment, and you wonder how a team like this gets built. Not just the draft picks, but the identity and the will to be this good against sometimes long odds. Then you see general manager Dean Lombardi making his way to players -- not necessarily the star players, but the young players who never got on the ice during the playoffs or veteran role players such as Jeff Schultz, a defenseman who played in just seven postseason games.
Former NHLer Alyn McCauley is a pro scout with the Kings. He said he remains amazed at the constant ability of this team to find another level of compete, another level of will to push forward.
"But it always felt like these guys just had such a belief in each other," McCauley told ESPN.com.
Martinez scored with 5:17 left in the second overtime to give the Kings the victory. He insisted he "blacked out" from joy.
"I tossed my gear, the guys jumped in and I couldn't breathe for a while. It's a surreal moment," Martinez said.
For Brown, the captain who endured an up-and-down season but who was once again a force in the playoffs, this playoff year was especially rewarding.
"It was the most challenging, rewarding season all in one," Brown said.
He credits his teammates for providing the opportunity to have it end as it did two years ago, with a celebration on home ice.
"The first one, I think we took a lot of people by surprise," he said. "This one, I mean, everyone knows we're a good team and we had to battle through. If you don't have that special bond together, we're not sitting here celebrating."