The Phoenix Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings both squeaked into the playoffs in the final days of the regular season. And now, both teams find themselves playing for the Western Conference Championship. It truly is one of the great attributes of the NHL…parity. Any team at the start of the playoffs can win the Stanley Cup. It is great to see two teams that could not get past the first round the last two seasons play for the right to go to the Stanley Cup final.
The Pacific Division rivals split their season series, each going (3-3). All games between these two teams were relatively close. The most recent meeting was Feb 21 at Jobing.com Arena, which the Coyotes won 5-4 in a shootout. The Kings were up 3-0 in that game before the Coyotes came storming back and picked up the two points in an 11-0-1 month of February.
The LA Kings had one of the most anemic offenses during the regular season. A lot of people had them as sitting ducks against the high-powered Vancouver Canucks in the first round. But it was the Kings who flipped the switch going into and at the start of the playoffs. The offense was not always lights out, but L.A. got very timely goals while in turn shutting down Vancouver. Anze Kopitar is the star and is still the best offensive player on the team, but the captain Dustin Brown has scored six goals in these playoffs and has been all over the ice. He is going to be tough for the Coyotes to stop. Much like the Coyotes, LA has struggled on the power play, converting at an 8.5% clip during the playoffs. But that (5-0) record on the road means they are winning a majority of the battles at even strength, which is dangerous for Phoenix. The additions of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards are playing dividends in these playoffs.
Phoenix has also been a team to capitalize on timely opportunities to knock out opponents. The Coyotes have been outshot in most of their playoff games, many times by a wide margin. Even though the Coyotes do not get a ton of shots on net, they still find ways to score. Pekka Rinne, a Vezina finalist, struggled against that Phoenix offense. Antoine Vermette has been the surprise story of these playoffs, making the trade sending Kyle Turris to Columbus look fantastic. Vermette has five goals through the playoffs. The Coyotes get scoring from everywhere, including the fourth line of Kyle Chipchura, Daymond Langkow and Gilbert Brule, who have all been fantastic throughout the playoffs. Throw Boyd Gordon in there as well. And on top of that, the power play is improving, clicking at 16.1%. Still, LA has the scorers, so I give the slight edge to the Kings. Edge: Kings
LA has used defense to create offense in these playoffs. Their star defenseman, Drew Doughty, has six points through the playoffs. Where the power play has struggled, the penalty kill has been outstanding. The Kings have killed 35 of 38 penalties this postseason, a remarkable number. Much like the Coyotes defense, the Kings defense has not received a lot of attention, but Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell among others have been fantastic on defense for LA.
The Coyotes are not a team to be outdone on defense. It was not just Mike Smith shutting down the Blackhawks and then the Predators. That defense did a great job of taking the “heat out of a hot kitchen.” Oliver Ekman-Larsson continues to play beyond his age. Michael Rozsival is another one of the unsung heroes for this Coyotes team. Rusty Klesla is starting to become a household name. David Schlemko, who replaced the suspended Klesla in Game 5, was outstanding. I haven’t even mentioned Keith Yandle yet, who has been the leader of the defense this season. It is a solid group that does the dirty work necessary to win games. Edge: Coyotes
It’s hard to go one way or the other in this category. Mike Smith for Phoenix and Jonathan Quick for Los Angeles have both been fantastic. Their numbers are nearly identical through the postseason. The only different is that Smith has stopped over a hundred more shots than Quick through the first two series. Edge: Even
For Los Angeles, Daryl Sutter was exactly what the Kings needed. He replaced Terry Murray on Dec. 20 and instilled a strong work ethic and aggressiveness that the players have carried out extremely well. LA finished the season winning 13 of its final 21 games and 8 of its first 9 playoff games. Sutter has helped what once was an anemic offense find its way, with guys like Brown and Dustin Penner getting better at the start of the playoffs.
What more can you say about Dave Tippett. He still finds a way to get the most out of his players. He can strike the right chord when he needs to, but he never lets the highs get to high or the lows get to low. The Coyotes are a very even-keeled team because of their outstanding head coach. Edge: Even
Much like with the Predators, the Coyotes play a very similar style to the Kings. Great goaltending and great defense leads to timely chances on offense. The Coyotes will not have the “rust” edge like they did with the Preds in Game 1. Both teams will likely be sluggish at the beginning with nearly a week off. The Kings have been the hottest team with a (5-0) road record in the playoffs. They might steal a game at Jobing, but if they steal two, the Coyotes are in trouble. It is important for the Coyotes to win at least one of the first two games at home. Defense has dominated so far, and in my opinion, the Coyotes have the better defense. This series goes the limit, but Phoenix wins and goes to its first Stanley Cup Final. Coyotes in 7