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LOS ANGELES (AP) - For a team that hadn't trailed in a game since last month, the Los Angeles Kings were awfully good at playing from behind.
For a club that barely made the playoffs this spring, the Kings are on a near-unprecedented rampage through the Western Conference's top seeds.
And for a franchise that has never raised the Stanley Cup, these Kings appear quite ready to play for that singular privilege.
Anze Kopitar scored the tying breakaway goal, Dwight King added the winner early in the third period, and the Kings rolled to the brink of their first Stanley Cup final in 19 years with a 2-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 3 of the conference finals on Thursday night.
Los Angeles is up 3-0 in the series and could wrap up the franchise's second trip to the Cup final in Game 4 on Sunday.
"The biggest thing is we believed in the locker room that we can do it," said Kopitar, the third-leading scorer in the NHL postseason. "Not a lot of guys outside the locker room gave us the chance, I guess, especially (after) barely squeaking in the playoffs."
Jonathan Quick made 18 saves, and the eighth-seeded Kings improved to 11-1 in an undeniably charmed run through the NHL postseason by a franchise with 44 seasons of frustrating, Cup-free history.
When Daymond Langkow beat Quick on a breakaway and celebrated Phoenix's first lead of the series, captain Dustin Brown was curious how his Kings would respond to the first serious adversity they've faced in weeks. Their answer - a quick equalizer, followed by a fiery discussion in the locker room between periods - told Brown exactly what he expected.
"Phoenix was a lot better tonight, but we found a way to win," Brown said. "That's what it takes this time of year. It's exciting. There's a lot of guys in here that haven't experienced this ... but the thing that's made this work is how we're handling all this. We're up 3-0 again."
Although the Kings trailed for the first time in roughly 18 periods since April 28, they bounced back swiftly before largely controlling the third period. King scored his fourth goal in three games against the Coyotes, who face a deficit only three teams have overcome in NHL playoff history.
King connected 1:47 into the third, beating Mike Smith high to the glove side. The massive rookie scored two goals in the series opener and added the winner in Game 2.
"Everybody is answering the challenge and being better," said King, who has outscored the Coyotes all by himself in the series. "We're playing good, playing consistent. With the way we're going, we're tough to beat right now."
Smith stopped 26 shots in a standout performance for the third-seeded Coyotes, who must win four straight to reach their first Stanley Cup final in club history.
"None of us planned on being in (a 3-0 hole)," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. "I don't think it's disbelief, but I think it's disappointed."
In front of a long-suffering crowd gratefully enjoying its unexpected good fortune after decades of disappointment, the Kings dominated the third period in front of Quick. They forechecked relentlessly in the final minutes, forcing Smith to play a long stretch without his goal stick because Phoenix couldn't clear the zone so he could retrieve it.
The crowd soaked in another memorable performance during the best playoff run by this Second Six franchise since Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille led Los Angeles to its only conference title in 1993, while the Coyotes wondered if their own remarkable postseason run has any chance of continuing beyond Sunday.
Los Angeles largely dominated the first two games of the series in Glendale, outshooting the Coyotes 88-51 while winning by a combined 8-2. Phoenix had no more luck than Vancouver or St. Louis against the surprising No. 8 seeds, who finished two points behind the Pacific Division champion Coyotes in the regular season before steamrolling the West's top two teams in a combined nine games.
"We'll take a couple of days here and rest up, and what have we got to lose?" Phoenix coach Dave Tippett asked. "We'll come here and play as hard as we can. We'll give a real honest evaluation of who we are and how we got here."
Phoenix played Game 3 without forward Martin Hanzal, who served a one-game suspension for boarding Brown in Game 3. Doan, who escaped suspension for his own hit, took up the job of agitating Brown, face-washing the Kings' high-scoring captain with his glove during one scrum.
After Smith came up with several stellar saves during a scoreless first period, Keith Yandle slipped a long pass behind Mike Richards to Langkow, who beat Quick between the legs for his first goal of the postseason 1:03 into the second. Los Angeles hadn't trailed since the first period of Game 1 in its second-round series with St. Louis 19 days ago.
Staples Center briefly fell silent, but reached full roar moments later when Brown found Kopitar with a long pass behind the Phoenix defense. The Slovenian star beat Smith with a backhand for his fifth goal of the playoffs.
The teams were even in goals and shots heading to the third period, but King quickly put Los Angeles ahead with the latest impressive play of his incredible first NHL playoff run. Moments after Smith made a spectacular point-blank save on Jarret Stoll, King collected the puck during a delayed penalty and wired a high shot past Smith's glove into the top corner of the net.
"What a shot, and an even better look on his face when he saw where it went," Stoll said.
Tippett didn't love the call that created the delayed penalty.
"If I told you what I really thought (about the officiating), I think it would cost me a lot of money," he said.
NOTES: The game was the first of six playoff contests in four days at Staples Center, where the NBA's Lakers and Clippers will host back-to-back second-round playoff games this weekend. The Tour of California - the nation's largest cycling race - also finishes outside the arena about 30 minutes before the puck drops on Game 4 Sunday. "We get about 60 hours' rest before our next game, as long as nobody's in that bike ride," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. ... Marc-Antoine Pouliot took Hanzal's spot in the Coyotes' lineup, and enforcer Paul Bissonnette replaced Gilbert Brule. D Adrian Aucoin has missed the entire series with an injury. ... USC QB Matt Barkley and actor Cuba Gooding Jr. attended the game.
|Shane Doan Roughing against Jarret Stoll|
|Derek Morris Roughing against Jarret Stoll|
|Alec Martinez Cross checking against Shane Doan|
|Michal Rozsival Hi-sticking against Jarret Stoll|
|Oliver Ekman-Larsson Cross checking against Dustin Brown|
|Drew Doughty Holding against Shane Doan|
|Shane Doan Holding against Drew Doughty|
|Radim Vrbata Slashing against Anze Kopitar|
|SA: 28||TOI: 59:26|
|Saves: 26||EV: 20 - 22|
|PIM: 0||PP: 6 - 6|
|SV%: .929||SH: 0 - 0|
|SA: 19||TOI: 59:59|
|Saves: 18||EV: 16 - 17|
|PIM: 0||PP: 0 - 0|
|SV%: .947||SH: 2 - 2|