Pacific rivals get Western Conference Finals started
KINGS at COYOTES
Game 1, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, TSN, RDS
The Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes both play in the Pacific Division, but they haven't played each other since Feb. 21, when the Coyotes won a wild one in a shootout, 5-4, at Jobing.com Arena. The Kings had a 3-0 lead in the first period, but Phoenix pulled to within 4-3 after two and got a goal from Radim Vrbata with 2:27 left in the third to force overtime. Mikkel Boedker scored the shootout winner against Jonathan Quick
Los Angeles won the season series by picking up eight of a possible 12 points (3-1-2). Its lone regulation loss was a 1-0 heartbreaker on Feb. 16 at Staples Center. Phoenix had seven points in the season series (3-2-1), but has come out on top in the last two meetings against the Kings.
It's the Western Conference Finals between two teams that nobody had pegged to go this far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Kings haven't been to the third round since 1993, when Wayne Gretzky starred in L.A. The Coyotes have never been this far. Both starting goalies, Mike Smith (Phoenix) and Jonathan Quick
(L.A.), are considered top candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy at the halfway point of the playoffs.
The eighth-seeded Kings dispatched the top-seeded Canucks in five games and the second-seeded Blues in four. Quick has been impressive with a 1.55 goals-against average and .949 save percentage.
They've improved their offense in the playoffs and are averaging 3.00 goals per game after scoring just 2.29 in the regular season. Captain Dustin Brown
has been leading the charge with 11 points, including the winning goal in Game 4 against the Blues this past Sunday.
has established himself as a force with seven points and a plus-7 rating after scoring only 17 points with a minus-7 rating in 65 regular season games. Penner has filled a big role in the Kings' top-six along with linemates Mike Richards
and Jeff Carter
, as well as Brown, Justin Williams
and Anze Kopitar
The top-six forwards have combined for 47 points in nine playoff games.
"We still have that main defensive base that we focus on, but with the guys getting their confidence and learning their linemates, that's why we're putting more pucks in the net," defenseman Drew Doughty
told NHL.com. "We all know in here that we can continue to keep going."
The typically non-descript Coyotes are backed by a goalie that has refined his game and become as close to a superstar as this team has. Smith has allowed two or fewer goals in eight of his 11 starts and has posted a 1.77 GAA and .948 save percentage along with two shutouts.
Smith, though, has gotten help from a plethora of forwards who have stepped up.
Martin Hanzal had four points in the five-game series victory over the Predators. Boedker scored the overtime winner twice in the six-game first-round series win over Chicago. Center Antoine Vermette, who was acquired from Columbus on Feb. 22, leads the team with five goals and nine points. Veteran winger Ray Whitney scored the OT winner in Game 1 against Nashville.
Even the Coyotes defensemen have chipped in with 23 points, including seven each from Keith Yandle and Rostislav Klesla.
"I think we've gotten more confident playing with the puck," Smith said referring to the defense corps. "Early in the playoffs we didn't want it so much. We got it and got rid of it. I think as we got deeper in the playoffs our 'D' got more comfortable playing with it, playing with the puck, being more poised with it, and started to make a lot more plays with it."
Brown is coming off a two-point performance in Game 4 and has been the lightning rod for the Kings improved offense. ... Hanzal had the winning goal in Game 5 against the Predators.
It appears the long layoff has allowed both teams to get as healthy as possible. There are no significant injuries to report other than Kings forward Simon Gagne
, who hasn't played since December due to a concussion.
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett has made the playoffs in eight of his nine seasons as a head coach in the NHL. ... The Kings have eight players in their lineup that have been on teams that went to the Stanley Cup Final; the Coyotes only have two. ... The Kings have reached the conference finals despite a power play that is clicking at 8.5 percent.
The Kings clinched their spot in the conference finals last Sunday. The Coyotes did it one day later.
"It doesn't matter how much time you had in between," Yandle said, "you're going to be ready for a playoff game."