One down, three to go.
The Phoenix Coyotes avoided a sweep in the Western Conference Finals Sunday night when they finally slowed the dangerous Los Angeles Kings offense and did just enough to defeat netminder Jonathan Quick. It was a solid road victory that kept any slimmer of hope alive moving forward.
But, now is when making a comeback gets difficult. Phoenix will host two of the final three games in the series (game five being later this evening), which is bad news for Coyotes fans.
Yes, you read that right. The trip back to Jobing.com Arena in Arizona is by no means exciting for Phoenix. Not only are they already underdogs in that about 98 percent of teams that fall behind 3-0 are eliminated. But, they are in the midst of a meeting with one of the more dominating road playoff units in NHL postseason history.
The 8th-seeded Kings are 7-0 in games away from the Staples Center in the first three rounds of the playoffs. And, this has been a dominating stretch of hockey. Los Angeles has won six of the seven games by at least two goals and overall they have outscored opponents 26-10. Against the Coyotes in particular, the Kings won game one 4-2 and then cruised in game two, 4-0.
So, contrary to the intended purpose of home ice advantage, Phoenix has much of the momentum working against them as game five approaches. However, in the very limited sample size of bad performances by Los Angeles in the postseason (just two defeats in 13 games), I’ve found a three part formula that the Coyotes must follow if they hope to keep their season alive.
Forging the comeback begins in power play situations. Offensively, Phoenix must find a way to convert when Los Angeles is a man down. So far in the postseason, the Kings have killed 34 of 35 power play opportunities in opposing arenas, which is a staggering 97 percent success rate. Similarly, on the defensive end of the ice, Mike Smith and the Coyotes defense have to keep Los Angeles off the board when they have the extra man — LA has scored five of their six playoff power play goals in winning performances.
Part two of the comeback trail involves preventing Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar from dominating the game. This is much easier said then done, however. The two-headed monster has scored 28 of its 29 postseason points when the Kings win, and 18 of those have come during the seven-game road winning streak. In games one and two in Arizona, the combination tallied two goals and four assists, making them the clear offensive reason for the Los Angeles triumph. Hockey may be a team sport, but if the Coyotes can’t slow this pair, they will be on the golf course Wednesday morning.
Finally, Phoenix must find a way to play with the lead. In games one through three, the Kings held the lead for a combined 104 minutes, while the Coyotes held the advantage for just two. Naturally, this explains how the series got ugly so quickly. However, in game four, Phoenix jumped ahead in the first period and led for 46 of 60 minutes. This is crucial because when facing a netminder like Los Angeles’ Quick, being behind by one or two tallies can feel like much more — even very early in a contest. If the Coyotes can strike first the rest of the way, you have to like their chances significantly more.
Making the comeback is improbable. The Kings have already easily finished two 3-0 leads during this postseason. But, all hope isn’t lost. The Coyotes showed in game four that they have the defensive ability to keep Los Angeles at bay for 60 minutes. They’ll need much more of the same success if they hope to reach the clubs first Stanley Cup Finals. Otherwise — and most likely — the Kings will have the champaign bottles out before the weekend.
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