A long wait packed with tension, uncertainty and the thought that something was slipping away was ended Friday by a player who knows those feelings well.
Kings defenseman Alec Martinez won the Kings the Stanley Cup in the team's longest game in history, corraling the rebound of a double-overtime shot by teammate Tyler Toffoli and shooting it into the open net. The initial shot bounced off the leg pad of New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, enabling Martinez to slam home his third game-winning goal of the postseason and ice the season with a 3-2 victory.
"I saw a loose puck in our end, just tried to move it up, then it just came right to my stick," Martinez, 26, said of the victorious sequence. "It came out pretty quick.... I just tried to get it on net, I shot, then I blacked out. I couldn't breathe for a while. It's a surreal moment.
"I'm just so happy — happy for the guys, happy that it happened — just ecstatic.
"I haven't been married, haven't had kids, but as far as I'm concerned so far it's the greatest feeling in the world."
Martinez, 26, said all this on the Staples Center ice after he hoisted the Cup high, then planted a kiss on the silver trophy he's now won twice in three seasons.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter presided over a defensive-minded group that allowed the fewest goals in the NHL, but he didn't display complete trust in Martinez, subjecting the third-year player to a competition for playing time and a diet of healthy scratches that left his games played 21 shy of the 82-game regular-season total.
Martinez was too mistake-prone on the defensive end for Sutter's liking. While Martinez balked at revisiting that past during the glory of Friday's celebration, the youngster was clearly being tested by the gruff coach to tighten his game.
"It's not about me, it's about the team, about something bigger … ," Martinez said. "I've said it a ton, this is a testament to the character of our guys."
Toffoli noticed how Martinez dealt with the adversity: "He did whatever it took, he just wanted to play."
Martinez shored things up to finish plus-17 in goal differential. With that, he found himself in the postseason rotation, playing in all of the 26 playoff games. After scoring 11 goals in the regular season, he added five more in the playoffs.
"He just kept coming up for us, and look where we are now," Toffoli said.
"We showed a lot through adversity," Martinez said. "…It's a ramped-up environment. We've gone through a lot of highs and lows, but we're born to stay even-keeled.
"I didn't care who gets the game-winner, as long as it's someone in our room."