Everyone knows the hockey superstition: No shaving during the playoffs. For a fresh twist on this old standard, we introduce Brody Clifford, the 8-week-old son of Kings left winger Kyle Clifford.
In some ways, Brody was the Kings' good-luck charm during their run to a second Stanley Cup championship. He was born a day after the Game 1 of the opening-round series against San Jose (which makes him draft eligible in 2032). Of course, that was the series in which the Kings fell behind 3-0 before mounting their historic surge.
After seven-game series wins against the Sharks, Ducks and defending champion Blackhawks, the Kings completed the journey on Friday the 13th with a 3-2 double-overtime win against the Rangers in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.
About 40 minutes after defenseman Alec Martinez pumped in the Cup-clinching strike by converting the rebound of Tyler Toffoli's shot, young Brody was on the ice at Staples Center, being held by his dad while sporting a stunning and impressive mop of hair. Just as the players wait until they're finished with the playoffs to shave, Brody Clifford can finally get his first haircut.
"Oh, definitely," Clifford said. "It's time."
Clifford made sure the time is now by assisting on the magic moment. He carried the puck into the Rangers' zone on a rush. He then dropped the puck to Tyler Toffoli on his right and continued skating toward the net. Toffoli uncorked a shot from the top of the right circle. The rebound kicked out to Martinez, who filled the lane on the left side unmarked as Clifford drew two defenders.
"Toff made a good play to get to the net," Clifford said.
The party was on after Martinez connected, and as jubilation and delirium took over the chaotic scene, there was also a dose of relief for the Kings, particularly Clifford.
He had been whistled for boarding Derek Dorsett at 5:43 of the second overtime, and the Rangers nearly forced Game 6 on the ensuing power play. But Dan Girardi's shot ricocheted off the post -- the fourth ping overall during the extra sessions.
The Kings joined Chicago as just the second team to win more than one Stanley Cup since the NHL introduced the salary cap in 2005. After the Kings won the Cup in 2012, General Manager Dean Lombardi knew he had enough young players who were early enough in their careers to continue getting better. Clifford, 23 was one of them.
"During the lockout, I was fortunate to have time to talk to guys with the Patriots and 49ers," Lombardi said. "I couldn't talk to people in my own sport because they're not going to tell you anything. One of them said to me, 'Dean, you're not going to understand how different it is until you go through it. I can tell you this, this and this, but you're not going to understand it until you get in the thick of it.' Now I know what he's talking about.
"It's so different. You go back and think about what you should've done and didn't do. But I can see why they say the second one is in some ways more rewarding. Part of it is now there are expectations. It's a different challenge. One of those told me you don't try to recreate the feeling; re-invent yourself. That's very difficult thing to do. The tendency is to recreate. But every challenge is different. Last (time) we were 16-4. With no expectations, you're able to sneak up on people. This year there were expectations, but gosh, did we have to play 21 games to get here? That's a very different challenge. But the mindset of also knowing the reward can be an advantage because you know the price you pay, what it feels like. Don't try to recapture, re-invent."
Clifford was part of the re-invention theme in two ways. The first was that Clifford played just three games during the Kings' run to the Cup in 2012 because of a concussion he suffered in the first round against Vancouver. None came in the Cup Final against the Devils. The second was that he contributed some unexpected offense during the playoffs, particularly in the Cup Final against the Rangers.
Known mostly has a rugged banger who brings grit and energy, Clifford registered just eight points with three goals and five assists in 71 regular-season games. In the playoffs, he posted seven points in 24 games with a goal and six assists.
Perhaps it was fitting that Clifford was a central part of the Cup-winning play since he was the one who scored the team's first goal in Game 1 against the Rangers. Then late in the first period, Clifford stole the puck in a corner of the Rangers' zone. He lost possession while driving to the net, but Jeff Carter fed it back to Clifford, who quickly pumped a sharp-angle shot past goalie Henrik Lundqvist. It cut the lead to 2-1, and then in the second period, Clifford picked up an assist on Drew Doughty's tying goal.
On a team that features All-Stars and Olympians, it was lesser heralded players like Clifford and Martinez who stole the spotlight in the big moment. Then Clifford's son did the same in the postgame festivities just by being impossibly cute with his full head of hair.