By Lisa Dillman
Los Angeles Times
3:05 AM AKDT, May 23, 2012
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There was the celebratory group hug taking place by the glass, followed by a loud chorus of boos and then objects being tossed on the ice by some fans.
Yes, the 'Kings' long strange journey to the Stanley Cup finals -- returning there again for the first time in 19 years -- ended with one long thrilling night of hockey and in somewhat surreal fashion.
Weren't they supposed to be showered with champagne, not debris?
The final step of the journey back to the finals came courtesy of the man who received more criticism since he arrived in Los Angeles a little more than a year ago than any other Kings player in recent memory.
The hero was left wing Dustin Penner who scored the game-winning goal on a rebound from the high slot with 2 minutes 18 seconds left in overtime Tuesday for a 4-3 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes.
Penner's goal, his third of the playoffs and 10th point, clinched the Western Conference finals for the Kings, who won it, four games to one.
The Kings will play the New Jersey Devils or the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup finals.
"He had a journey tonight. I stuck with him," Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said of Penner. "He struggled early in the game. Stuck with him."
Said Penner, who also had an assist: "It's the biggest goal of my career thus far. Hopefully there's a couple more waiting in the finals. I was at the right place at the right time."
He addressed what he had gone through this past season, his struggles on the ice and divorce proceedings that became public.
"I guess when you're in a hole that no one can really dig you out of except for yourself," he said. " I put that pressure and that stress on myself to get me out of where I was. I had great support from teammates, family, friends, the organization as a whole."
Kings captain Dustin Brown, following the tradition of hockey superstition, did not touch the Clarence Campbell Bowl, which goes to the Western Conference champion.
He and the Kings were the target of the fans' ire and postgame debris tossing at Jobing.com Arena because of the hit Brown delivered on defenseman Michal Rozsival in overtime.
But there is just one trophy on the radar -- the Stanley Cup -- and Brown made that clear on the ice and afterward in the dressing room. Still, he acknowledged the meaning of the moment for the franchise.
"This is huge," Brown said. "You're talking twice in 45 years, that makes this something special for the organization. We still have a lot to do. We don't want to follow in the footsteps of the '93 team. We have to get back to work and make the most of this."
No matter the opponent, the finals will begin on the road, a week from Wednesday.
The Kings have not lost a game away from Staples Center during this playoff campaign. They are 8-0 on the road, an NHL record.
To get there, they survived an epic battle that was almost everything an elimination game should be.
There were surprising jolts of offense, poise under pressure and fabulous work from both goaltenders, all adding up to high playoff drama in the desert.
Who would have thought Coyotes Coach Dave Tippett and Sutter would unleash the hounds in an elimination playoff game?
Six goals were scored in the first two periods between the Kings and Coyotes. Remember the fear that there might not be six goals in the entire series?
The catalysts in regulation were Taylor Pyatt for the Coyotes and defenseman Drew Doughty and center Anze Kopitar for the Kings.
Pyatt scored the opening goal and assisted on the tying goal late in the second period.
Doughty had a goal and a assist, and Kopitar was a force all night, at both ends.
Mike Richards had the other goal for the Kings to give them a 3-2 lead in the second period before Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle equalized at 16:23 of the second.
And when regulation ended, overtime morphed into a two-man show, featuring two wildly talented goaltenders -- the Kings' Jonathan Quick and the Coyotes' Mike Smith.
Smith, in fact, took three shots off his mask and even lost his glove at one juncture.
"We've been getting contributions from everyone and that can take you a long way," Brown said. "You don't have to rely on one or two guys every night.
"It's not your best players being your best players. It's everybody."
And everybody on the Kings is going to the Stanley Cup finals.