Associated Press/Mark J. Terrill
Kings fans celebrate a goal by defenseman Drew Doughty (8) as Vancouver Canucks left wing Alex Burrows skates by during the first period of Game 3 Monday at Staples Center.
From her binocular-friendly seat in the front row of Staples Center’ upper-deck 304 section, Benay Furtivo peered over the Plexiglas barrier in front of her and spotted the logo “Stanley Cup Playoffs” etched into the ice near each blue line.
“Oh, my God, it’s happening – can you believe it?” the long-time season-seat holder from Westchester said, putting both hands up to her cheeks. “It’s almost unreal. It’s been so long. (italic)Too (off ital) long.”
A lot can change in eight years, but loyalty to Kings’ royalty is a nasty habit to break.
It was a full hour before the Kings would play their first NHL home playoff game since April 27, 2002 – that, according to the history books and early Internet accounts, was a 3-1 win over Colorado in Game 6 of an opening-round series they’d eventually lose to the Avalanche in Game 7 back in Denver.
But Furtivo, in her black Anze Kopitar sweater, made sure she sped over from her job at UCLA to be in the building as soon as possible early Monday evening.
“We all can hardly contain ourselves; my friend Tracy’s mom Linda is driving in for this from Barstow,” Furtivo said. “We’re all nuts.”
Or simply stir crazy.
There’s a fine line between teasing a Kings’ fan, and testing them. Since their Wayne Gretzky-led run to the Stanley Cup final 17 years ago, so much has changed – from coaches and GMs, to uniforms and facilities, to slogans and logos.
Manchester miracles and Figueroa flurries are only talked about by fuming fans and seething season-seat holders who don’t need a reminder that their rivals over in the O.C. have already been able to parade the Stanley Cup through their neighborhood.
“It has been frustrating; I don’t like sitting at home watching everyone else in the playoffs,” admitted Kings’ Hall of Fame play-by-play man Bob Miller, in his 37th year with the team, before the contest.
“When we’re not in the playoffs, we really feel like we’re out of the loop, out of the league.
“These fans have been so patient, they’ve waited so long. They should want to explode by now.”
They did Monday. Like a wrecking ball. But that’s no shocker.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal paid attention to the Kings’ post-season reappearance with a story about the team, most likely for the first time since former owner Bruce McNall had all his financial shenanigans.
The paper pointed out that, despite the fact they team has long been “the laughingstock of the league,” their average attendance of 17,313 is consistent with what they’ve been drawing since moving from the Forum to Staples Center in 1999.
Who’s laughing now?
The vocal support was cranked it up early and rarely subsided during Game 3, where the Kings led 4-2 going into the third period. Along with the visual of twirling the white towels given out to everyone as they entered the building, it was as raucous as the place has been in years – especially during a second-period outburst that chased Canucks goalie Roberto Loungo.
So dedicated is the team to its “Back in Black” campaign that the statues of Magic Johnson and Oscar de la Hoya (as well, of course as Gretzky) just outside the building were fitted with oversized Kings playoff sweaters.
The only thing they missing were playoff beards.
Those came via some fans who weren’t even born the last time the Kings were the postseason.
Four-year-old Brian Mantooth of Norwalk was across the street from Staples Center in Nokia Plaza, competing with people far older than him in a make-shift street-hockey game. To celebrate witnessing his first Kings’ playoff with his Kopitar jersey and yellow helmet, Mantooth stood out from the rest of the crowd because his mom helped him “grow” a playoff beard with the help of a black Sharpie pen.
“I had one, so he wanted one, too,” said Wayne Mantooth, who would soon be in his seats in Section 307. “I’ve been a fan since the ’90s, but I finally got season tickets last season. Now it’s paid off.”
Nine-year-old Aaron Garcia of Mission Hills was on his way to his 300-level seat with a neatly-trimmed fake beard, supplied by his dad, Roy.
“Just five bucks, over at Party City,” admitted Roy, who had his own faux version because he admitted his wife wouldn’t let him grow a real one.
“And I don’t think his mom will allow him to wear that one to school,” Roy said of Aaron’s appearance.
Miller admits that if did try to grow his own playoff beard, “it wouldn’t look that good. Besides, I’m not a big fan of them. By the time the team wins the Stanley Cup, the players look like a bunch of vagrants.”
If only the Kings knew what the feeling was like. Even vaguely.
And if only Furtivo could grow a playoff beard.
“I probably would if I could,” she said.