LOS ANGELES - While the Los Angeles Kings and family members celebrated the joy of a Stanley Cup victory on the ice, the agony of defeat was etched on Steve Bernier's face in the New Jersey Devils dressing room.
The 27-year-old Bernier wiped out the Devils comeback bid when he slammed his 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame into Kings defenceman Rob Scuderi from behind and into the end boards midway through the first period. For the dangerous play, he earned a five-minute boarding major and Bernier also was tossed from the game.
As he sat in the dressing room upset with referee Dan O'Rourke's call and upset with himself, he couldn't bear to watch the game on television. But he heard the crowd and felt even worse.
It roared and roared and roared again. A three-goal outburst from the Kings busted open the goal-less game. Los Angeles went onto beat the Devils 6-1 to claim the franchise's first championship in its 45-year history on Monday.
Bernier was consoled by his teammates. They didn't blame him and the native of Quebec City did not hide afterwards. He was one of the first Devils to talk to reporters.
"I thought [Scuderi] would keep the puck on his forehand," Bernier said. "It's a fast game and it ended up being a bad play.
"I didn't watch the replay of the penalty. I wish I could take that play back, but I can't.
"This is extremely hard. It's been a long playoff run and to finish on that note, it's not fun. Nothing we can do now."
After the Bernier was tossed, the Devils were visibly upset with O'Rourke. Head coach Peter DeBoer and his players chirped at the referee as the scored continued to worsen. But afterwards, DeBoer took the high road.
"You know what, tonight is about L.A. and letting them celebrate," DeBoer remarked after he was asked for his opinion on the call. "If you want to ask me about that in about a week, I'll give you my honest opinion on it."
Bernier, a former first-round (16th overall) draft pick of the San Jose Sharks, was having a solid playoffs on the Devils fourth line. He started the season on an AHL contract with New Jersey's farm team in Albany. Then he earned a promotion to the Devils in late January. Now he heads into the summer as an unrestricted free agent and his next destination unknown.
"It's a bad spot for him to be in," DeBoer said, when asked how bad he felt for Bernier. "Everybody knows Bernie's heart's in the right place. He's not at fault."
Veteran Devils defenceman Bryce Salvador, who took a four-minute high-sticking penalty in the second period, agreed with his coach.
"It's a non-issue really," Salvador said. "That's hockey and it happens; everything happens fast. I had a double minor on a high stick [which was] an unlucky circumstance there too. At the end of the day, the team that scored first won the games."
The team that scored first won each of the six games in this final. After jumping out to a 3-0 series lead, the Kings stumbled with back-to-back losses. They knew that in order to be the first team to celebrate a Stanley Cup championship on home ice since the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks, they better score first.
The Bernier penalty was a gift, but the Kings still had to get their woeful power play on track. It had scored only nine times in the previous 19 games. But captain Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis made sure Bernier paid for his sins.
The Kings led 4-1 entering the final 20 minutes and third period was nothing more than a prelude to a party. But veteran coach Darryl Sutter tried to keep his players from losing their focus.
"With a minute left he finally said to us, 'okay, now you can celebrate," Kings defenceman Willie Mitchell said.
The Staples Center went bonkers as the final seconds ticked down. Silver streamers dropped from the ceiling, and after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman presented the prized Cup to Brown, it was the 35-year-old Mitchell he passed the Stanley Cup to next.
"He's the most tenured guy," Brown explained. "He's been working a long time for this."
Mitchell, who overcame a concussion two years ago when he played for the Vancouver Canucks, where he played alongside Bernier, said that he thought about his wife and family and all the places he's been in hockey as the moment of victory neared. He also vowed to bring the Stanley Cup back to Port McNeill on Vancouver Island this summer.
It was quite a run for Mitchell and the eighth-seeded Kings, who will hold their vicory parade on Thursday. They traversed through the post season at a 16-4 clip and put it together under veteran head coach Darryl Sutter, who took over the team just before Christmas.
Now the 53-year-old Sutter, who been involved in the pro game as a player and coach for 34 years, will have his name etched on the Stanley Cup that already has the names of his brothers, Brent and Duane from their days with the New York Islanders thirty years ago. Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, was asked about Sutter's impact.
"It was a long road even before that," said Quick, who stopped 509 of 538 shots for a .946 saver percentage in the playoffs. "When Darryl came in I felt like everybody felt a little more accountable for their own actions, their day-to-day play, practice, everything.
"But obviously at the end of the day, no matter what, it's got to come from the room and guys have to make a decision to work. I think we did that. You can't say enough about this group and how hard they worked."
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