One win away now, and so of course he tries not to think about it. He drives around Los Angeles and keeps it well out of reach, makes it almost as much a dream as it was when he was a kid in Regina, Saskatchewan, where every kid dreams of Lord Stanley’s chalice.
The Stanley Cup: Could Rob Laird really be touching the thing, 12 hours or so hence?
“Personally, I try not to get too wrapped up in it,” says Laird, the Los Angeles Kings’ chief scout, by way of an answer.
And then: “I realize we’re close, but games are kind of hard to win this time of year.”
But, oh, how abundantly the wins are coming for these Kings. Eminently beatable right up until the playoffs started – they meandered into the postseason as an eighth seed, going 5-2-3 in their last 10 games – they have won 15 of their 17 playoff games now and are up 3-0 on the New Jersey Devils heading into Game 4 tonight.
It’s one of the most astounding playoff runs in Stanley Cup history, and it’s come almost literally out of nowhere. This is a team that finished third in its division, and was outscored by every team in the NHL except Minnesota. Now they’ve won 12 straight playoff road games going back to last season, have outscored the Devils 8-2.
They have a chance to match Edmonton’s record 16-2 run through the 1988 playoffs.
And if that makes it all the more special for a Dustin Brown or that matchless puckstopper, Jonathan Quick, it’s the Rob Lairds you think of most right now, who’ve given heart and soul to the game for so long.
This moment, this run, is for them. It’s for guys like Laird, in his 18th season with the Kings. It’s for the hockey lifer who came to Fort Wayne as a shaggy-haired wing short on pure skill but long on desire, and who played himself into the rafters, where his No. 18 hangs in Memorial Coliseum to this day.
That guy chased the game onto and off of a lot of buses over the years, and very few of them took him to the brightest lights. He played one game in the Show, with the Minnesota North Stars. He spent one season as an NHL assistant. The rest was a whole lot of Fort Wayne and Nashville and Moncton and Baltimore – and, of course, L.A.
“We had a good summer as far as making a couple good trades, and I really thought our team could be a contender,” he said. “For whatever reason, we really didn’t get untracked for a really long time. We just couldn’t score goals this year.
“It wasn’t until we made the coaching change (to Darryl Sutter) in December (that) all of a sudden players just started playing up to their abilities and beyond. One of the strengths of our hockey team is we can pin the opposition in their own end for a long period of time. The best defense is when you have the puck and you’re playing in the offensive end, and I think that’s one of the strengths.”
And if you think that formula sounds familiar, you’re not wrong. A month ago, in a different hockey universe, the Komets used a smothering forecheck and solid goaltending to hoist the President’s Cup. Now the Kings are grinding up the Devils with their forecheck and riding Quick’s sorcery to the Cup.
“It seems to be more of an attitude now than anything,” Laird says. “You get that good goaltender, and when you’re believing in your teammates and your coach, you really feel you can win games.”
And the things dreams are made of.