How They Got Here
Los Angeles — The Kings have taken the toughest path of any team to the final four; but, they have made it look easy. They battled past the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks in five games and then hammered the second-seeded St. Louis Blues in the conference semi-finals.
Phoenix — The Coyotes have been dominant along their path to the conference finals as well. They upended the Chicago Blackhawks in a six-game series full of nail-biters, and then sunk the hopes of the Nashville Predators in a quick 4-1 victory.
The regular season series was TIED, 3-3.
Oct 20th — Los Angeles 2, Phoenix 0
Oct 29th — Los Angeles 2, Phoenix 3 (OT)
Dec 26th — Phoenix 3, Los Angeles 4
Jan 5th — Phoenix 0, Los Angeles 1 (OT)
Feb 16th – Phoenix 1, Los Angeles 0
Feb 21st — Los Angeles 4, Phoenix 5 (OT/SO)
Keys to the Series
1. Jonathan Quick vs. Mike Smith
I hope you have learned by now that I love matchups of great goaltenders. And, if you tend to agree with me, you’re in for a treat in this series. The Kings’ Jonathan Quick and the Coyotes’ Mike Smith combine to make two of the more successful netminders in the NHL and they are the chief reason that each club has made it this far. In the case of Quick, he has gone 8-1 in the postseason and leads all remaining goalies with a 1.55 goals against average and a save percentage near 95 percent. His counterpart, Smith, is just slightly behind with a 1.77 goals against average and a save percentage that is just one tenth of a percent lower. In other words, you won’t find a better pair then this, so enjoy it while it lasts.
2. Which is Better? LA on the Road, or PHO at home?
What an interesting discussion this has become after the first two rounds of the playoffs. I truly believe the games played in Phoenix will determine the outcome of this series. This is simply because Los Angeles has been unbeatable on the road in the playoffs. The Kings are 5-0 overall in opposing arena’s, with the wins coming in Vancouver and St. Louis — undeniably two of the toughest home ice clubs in the NHL. Conversely, the Coyotes have been put up a successful 4-2 mark at the Jobing.com Arena, which includes a three-game winning streak that began against Nashville. Keep in mind that the first two games of this seven game series are home games for Phoenix, so we could learn a lot immediately.
3. Coyotes Penalty Kill vs. Kings Power Play Offense
Offensive success may be hard to find in this series, which will make power play opportunities of extreme importance. If the current playoff trend continues for each club, this is a major advantage for Phoenix. In the opening two rounds, the Coyotes killed about 90 percent of opponents power play opportunities — a mark that would stack up nicely next to most other clubs in the league. And, they had to be happy to draw a team like the Kings, who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn when they have the extra man. Think I’m kidding? Los Angeles is an unbelievable 4-for-47 on power play chances in the postseason, despite winning eight of the nine games they have played. Let’s see who wins this battle, I think it could be very telling.
Player to Watch
Ray Whitney, Left Wing, Phoenix Coyotes
It’s about time to show some love for the ‘old man’ from the Phoenix Coyotes. The 40-year-old, Ray Whitney, continues to dominate the youngsters in the NHL, which makes him an irreplaceable peace for the Coyotes in the Western Conference Finals. In the regular season, he posted a team-leading 77 points — 15 more than any other player on the roster — on 24 goals and 53 helpers. However, the postseason hasn’t been as kind. Whitney has recorded just six points in 11 contests and none in his last three. Also, he struggled a bit against the Kings in the regular season, capturing just two assists in the six games. So, the question is, can he turn it on now that a trip to the Stanley Cup series is on the line? I truly believe that Phoenix needs close to a point per night from him if they hope to prevail.
Any time you put two goaltenders of this caliber on the ice, it’s safe to assume that it will be an excellent series. However, the emergence of a dangerous Los Angeles offense during the first two rounds has made me like their chances to slip past another highly-seeded opponent. It’ll be too much Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown for Mike Smith to handle.
Kings advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, 4 games to 3.