Los Angeles Kings/Phoenix Coyotes: 2012 Western Conference Finals Preview

The NHL’s 2012 Western Conference Finals may boil down to a goaltender’s duel between Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (shown here at a
recent practice session), and Phoenix Coyotes netminder Mike Smith.
(click to view a larger image).
Photo: David Sheehan/FrozenRoyalty.net
EL SEGUNDO, CA — Despite what the players and coaches have been saying over the past week, the National Hockey League’s 2012 Western Conference Finals (Game 1 is scheduled for tonight, 5:00 PM PDT, Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Arizona) features two teams that are very, very similar.

Whether it is a hard, aggressive forecheck, solid play in the defensive end, stand-on-your-head goaltending, both teams making strong runs at the end of the season to make the playoffs, and peaking at just the right time, the Los Angeles Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes, both Pacific Division rivals, would not be easy to differentiate if they wore the same jerseys.

“They’re very similar to us in the way that they play, from a structure standpoint,” Kings right wing and team captain Dustin Brown said about the Coyotes. “Strong defense, strong goaltending. The game plan is no secret. We need to get in on the forecheck. It’ll be the same as playing [against] St. Louis.”

“They’re a similar hockey team to what we are,” Coyotes forward Boyd Gordon said about the Kings. “Same kind of style, have great goaltending, they’re strong on the back. They’ve got some skill guys who can put the puck in the net, so, I think we’re going to have to be on top of our game if we want to come out on top.”

“Tactically, I don’t think they changed a lot,” said Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett. “You see their team and it looks like they just play with more emotion, and that kind of changed as it went on. You automatically get an emotional kick when you change the coach, but their team, they seemed to build as the year went on, and obviously they’re playing very well.”

Tippett said that it is not so much about the teams being different.

“I don’t know if they’re that much different,” he said. “Every team, as the season goes on, you try to build your game, you try to push your team to be peaking at the right time. We hadn’t played them in the regular season since February, but if you look at LA and the push they put on down the stretch, and we had to put a push on down the stretch just to make the playoffs, that’s just a by-product of teams getting ready to play in the playoffs and earning the right to be in the playoffs.”

“You hope your team is—everybody is playing as well as possible going into the playoffs,” he added. “I think you’ve seen that from both teams.”

Semantics aside, both teams are playing differently from the regular season, even from the last few weeks before the playoffs, no matter what you want to call it.

Now that we are down to the final two teams in each conference, it is no fluke that the two remaining teams coming out of the Western Conference are from the Pacific Division, which is, arguably, the toughest division in the league.

“If you look at the [Pacific Division] teams, they’re all pretty similar, and that’s the result of the bigger picture, playing in the [Western Conference],” said Brown. “A lot of teams are very similar in the West, but the Pacific Division has been one of the tougher divisions over the last five or six years.”

“When you’re playing those teams six times a year, to be able to compete against those types of teams, you have to be willing to put on your work boots,” added Brown.

Being in the same division, these are two teams that know each other very well.

“They’re really well coached, and they play their system really well,” Brown explained. “When you think of the Coyotes, you think of their goaltending, and that they get really timely scoring from their big guys. They’re very opportunistic on the offensive side of things, and they don’t give up a whole lot defensively. The one thing that’s going to be evident is that they’re a hard working team. That’s something you can’t really teach.”

“Their team has changed, our team has changed, and it’s pretty evident that both teams are playing pretty good hockey right now, so I think you have a better idea of the type of players they have, depth-wise, as opposed to some players you probably don’t know on other teams.”

Despite the changes, there will be no surprises.

“There’s no secrets,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar. “Everybody’s got video, and they analyze everything. I don’t think there’s going to be too many surprises out there.”

“Between pre-scouting, knowing their personnel, and being in the same division, there really are no secrets,” Tippett noted. “You’re going to have two teams that are going to play hard and each team is finding a way to win.

Having reached the conference finals for the first time in franchise history, the Coyotes are expecting a dogfight against a team that has only made it to the conference finals for the second time in its history.

“It’s going to be a very tough series against a very good hockey team,” said Gordon. “They’re playing great hockey right now. Top to bottom, they’re as good as anybody in the league. So, we’re going to have to be going on all cylinders if we want to get some wins.”

“They stacked up over the trade deadline, too,” said Coyotes forward Mikael Boedker. “There are surprises every year in the playoffs. You can’t count any team out, and they’re a good team, but we’re just as good. We’re trying to beat them, and I think we’ve got a pretty good chance.”

This is a series that could come down to the goaltenders, with Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith, and Kings netminder Jonathan Quick being two of the top goalies in the league, and with both putting in one outstanding effort after another during the post-season.

“The goaltending is a huge part, at this point of the season, and we’re feeling really good about our goalie, and they’re feeling really good about their goalie, so it’s going to be a matter of [finding ways to beat Smith],” said Kopitar.

“[Smith is] as valuable to our team as there is a player in the league,” said Coyotes right wing and team captain Shane Doan. “I think he’s proven himself, but last series, he got to go against [Nashville Predators goaltender] Pekka Rinne, who is nominated for the Vezina, and in this series, he gets to go against Jonathan Quick, another guy nominated for the Vezina.”

“We’ll go as far as Smitty can carry us,” added Doan. “We’ve got to help out and give him something to work with, but at the same time, we all recognize how valuable he is.”

The Kings know that they will need to get traffic in front of Smith on a consistent basis.

“[Smith] covers a lot of net,” said Kings center Jarret Stoll. “He plays big. He’s very athletic, too. He’s obviously a good athlete. We’re going to have to shoot as many shots as possible at him, get second chance opportunities, make him work, make him move side-to-side. It’s going to have to be a pretty good shot to beat him clean.”

“He’s pretty much like our goaltender,” added Stoll. “Everybody knows that. We have to make it hard on him. Like any good goalie, make him work a lot, make it tough by getting a lot of shots, be around the crease, get all three guys ending up at the crease, you know, be hungry.”

“The goalies for both teams have been their best players all year,” Brown noted. “Saying that, it’s important for us to make it hard on Mike. That’s going to be a focal point of this series. Just like Quick, he’s going to make all the saves he’s supposed to. We’ve got to get in front, and make it hard for him. A lot of that comes down to wanting to do it, wanting to go to the tough areas of the ice to make it hard on their players.”

As similar as the two teams are in goal, they are also very similar in that both teams have solid captains.

“He’s physical, and he’s been playing unbelievable,” Doan said about Brown. “He’s their captain, and he brings a lot to the table because of his offense, as well as his physical play. He’s a great player, right now. He’s probably the best player, other than the goalies, in the playoffs.”

“I played against Doan my whole career, and he’s the same player he was when I first came into the league, and we play similar games,” said Brown. “I think we have that mutual respect in the way we play the game.”

Although few talked about the Coyotes or Kings as being among the NHL’s speedier teams during the regular season, speed has been mentioned leading up to this series.

“They’ve got a quick team,” said Quick. “They have a lot of speed, coming in on the rush. They always have four guys joining the rush, with a defenseman jumping up, guys like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Keith Yandle. Those guys are very skilled defensemen.”

“They’re a really fast team, right through their lineup,” said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. “It’s not like it’s [only their] top-end, it’s right through their lineup, and they have two, top-end defensemen that make a big impact in Yandle and Ekman-Larsson.”

“On a lot of teams, there’s a top end and a bottom end,” added Sutter. “But with their team, I don’t think that is there. It’s real quick team, right through their lineup. There’s probably similarities with our [team] also. It’s not like there’s a team that’s way faster than the other one [in this series]. We’re a fast team, too.”

What will be more visible than speed is the expected physical nature of this series.

“It’s going to be physical,” said Boedker. “It’s going to be hard and it’s going to be real intense.”

“We expect to be physical,” said Gordon. “Obviously, this is playoff hockey, so we know what to expect. I think it’s going to be emotional and I think keeping your discipline is key. We haven’t had a problem keeping our discipline, so far, so hopefully more of the same.”

“At this time of year, it’s about hard work,” Brown stressed. “Getting in on the forecheck, making it hard on their guys who play a lot of minutes—Ekman-Larsson plays thirty minutes a game. It’s important for us to get on him. He’s a younger guy, and we’ve got to wear on guys like that throughout the series.”

Another similarity between the two teams is the play of their third and fourth line forwards, as both teams are getting contributions from throughout their lineups.

“It just shows that we have the most depth we’ve ever had here,” said Tippett. “You have a line that can go on the ice against anybody that you feel comfortable with…and I think we’ve seen that they’re capable of generating some chances and some goals.”

“Just like we said after the Vancouver series, Stoll scored two big goals, [forward Trevor Lewis scored a goal, [left wing Dustin] Penner scored a goal,” Sutter noted. “[Against St. Louis, defenseman Matt] Greene scored a goal, [rookie left wing Jordan] Nolan scored a goal, {rookie left wing Dwight] King scored a goal, and Penner scored two more goals. You’ve got to get [contributions] from everybody, or you’re not playing anymore.”

“When the other team can’t just say, ‘if we shut down the top two lines, we’ve got a good chance of winning,’ because we have two other lines that can score, it’s better for us,” said Penner. “We’ve got four lines that can score, we’ve got defensemen who are scoring—that’s what you need to go deep in the playoffs—contributions from every position.”

As Sutter noted, a team cannot reach the Promised Land without contributions from throughout the lineup.

“It’s not always about star players,” he remarked. “They usually score big goals for you. So it’s spread out again. That’s the value of it, and that’s how you keep playing. Those unsung guys always make a difference on good teams at playoff time.”

As one might expect, it is not just the Coyotes who are expecting a dogfight.

“They’re playing well,” Quick said of the Coyotes. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. Mike Smith is playing as well as anyone in the league right now. It’s going to be a challenge.”

“They’re playing some great hockey, and we’re playing well, and that’s exactly what you need at this time of year—the two best teams in the Western Conference right now,” added Quick.

“Their goalie is on top of his game right now, and they have a pretty good defensive corps,” said Kopitar. “Up front, they’re very dynamic. They have a lot of forwards who can make plays, and they’re really fast. They’re a well-balanced team, and they’re not in the conference finals for nothing. At this point in the year, everybody deserves to be where they are. It’s the edge that’s going to push you through it.”

Do the Kings have that edge? Up to this point in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they have shown that they do. Unless they collapse mentally, they are the more talented team in this series, and should be able to eliminate the Coyotes in six games.

Raw Audio Interviews: Los Angeles Kings Practice, May 8, 2012

(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)

Dustin Brown (4:13)

Colin Fraser (0:58)

Anze Kopitar (3:09)

Jordan Nolan (2:03)

Jonathan Quick (3:47)

Raw Audio Interviews: Los Angeles Kings Practice, May 9, 2012

(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)

Dustin Brown (5:57)

Dustin Penner (4:29)

Robb Scuderi (5:34)

Darryl Sutter (8:31)

Raw Audio Interviews: Los Angeles Kings Practice and NHL Media Conference Call, May 10, 2012

(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)

Dustin Brown (5:26)

Kevin Westgarth (5:37)

Darryl Sutter (9:05)

Phoenix Coyotes right wing Shane Doan (8:33)

Phoenix Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett (17:31)

Tickets for the Kings’ upcoming home playoff games against the Phoenix Coyotes – May 17, 6:00 PM PDT (Coyotes vs. Kings: Game 3); May 20, 12:00 PM (Coyotes vs. Kings: Game 4); May 24, TBD (Coyotes vs. Kings: Game 6 – if necessary), are available from Barry’s Tickets, an official partner of the Los Angeles Kings. Use the code, “Royalty010” to get a 10 percent discount on their “Best Value” tickets.

Creative Commons License Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.

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