Follow @frozenroyaltyEL SEGUNDO, CA — After dropping Games 1 and 2 of the 2012 Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Kings, both rather lopsided affairs on home ice, the Phoenix Coyotes let their frustration boil over, as National Hockey League teams often do, resulting in a parade to the penalty box.
That frustration led to two dangerous incidents, including a careless, dangerous, knee-on-knee hit by Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris on Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi (Morris received a minor penalty on the play), and an even more dangerous hit from behind by Coyotes center Martin Hanzal on Kings right wing and team captain Dustin Brown.
During the third period, Hanzal pursued Brown behind the Phoenix net, hitting Brown from behind at the 11:01 mark (see NHL video below).
Hanzal received a major penalty for boarding, and an automatic game misconduct on the play, and after a Wednesday hearing with NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations Brendan Shanahan, he was suspended for tonight’s Game 3, scheduled for 6:00 PM PDT at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Despite the edgy play by the Coyotes, the Kings maintained their composure, something they have done throughout the post-season, a part of their winning formula.
“We’ve talked a lot of about that since Game 1 against Vancouver, just playing between the whistles, and making sure we don’t let anything that the other team does affect how we play the game,” said Kings left wing Dustin Penner. “That’s what good teams do, they try to play in between the whistles, they don’t get overly emotional, or take reckless penalties.”
Kings center Jarret Stoll pointed to his team’s composure as a positive in the post-season.
“We just have to stay within the game, stay within ourselves, realize the situation we’re in and how we got there,” he noted. “The whole St. Louis series, we were a disciplined, composed team. [We] took some penalties that we probably didn’t want to take, [but] ended up winning the series. It’s composure when everything is on the line, and everything is at high tempo. Somehow, you have to be composed in those situations.”
“It doesn’t make any sense to retaliate, you’ve got to just play the game,” he added. “We were in a good situation to not retaliate. If they want to get something going, and set the tone, maybe for the next game. Maybe that was part of their mindset.”
But remaining composed is only one half of that part of the equation.
“We try to impose our will a little bit, play physical, and be hard on the top players on the opposing team,” said Kings rookie left wing Dwight King. “Over time, people get frustrated with that.”
So far, the plan has worked like a charm. But don’t think for a second that the Kings will forget about any liberties taken against them.
“It’s nice to talk about it, but this is a physical game,” said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. “[That said], there’s a time and place [for retribution]. Their [jersey] numbers don’t change, unless they change teams.”
Indeed, the Kings, especially Brown, have gotten into the heads of the Coyotes, but not so much because of chippy play. Rather, the Kings have been dominant in every facet of the game, totally outplaying the Coyotes at every turn, resulting in some very frustrated players on the Phoenix bench.
Some of that frustration is also because the Coyotes believe that they have not been on top of their game against the Kings.
“I think there’s a combination of things,” said Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett. “One is frustration of knowing we haven’t played as well as we would like. Haven’t played to our capabilities. That frustration can’t get the better of us.”
“We have to find a way to go out, and do the things that allow us to be successful,” added Tippett. “Sometimes people expect us to come out and dominate a game. That’s not going to happen. We’re a team that goes out, we hang around the game, and we find a way to win. The frustration of not being able to do that in the first two games certainly was evident. We have to get back to playing the way we can, playing our style, that we can find a way to win.”
“It’s been frustrating so far,” said Coyotes goalie Mike Smith. “It’s one thing to lose when you’re playing your best. When you’re losing games and not playing up to your capabilities, that’s why it’s frustrating.”
But when it comes right down to it, what the Kings are doing appears to be the primary cause of the Coyotes’ failures in this series.
“I think there’s sometimes, I think you have to give them credit, how they’re playing,” said Tippett. “I certainly think that we can show better than we are right now. Like I said, I like the first period, first part of the second period. We got to find a way to sustain that, obviously keeps some pucks out of our net, be more disciplined, capitalize on a chance or two, at least give ourselves a chance where we feel like we’re competitive in the game.”
“They are using their size, they’re throwing a lot of pucks at the net, crashing the net,” added Tippett. “We’re trying to do the same thing. We just haven’t got as many pucks there.”
“We have to be better overall in our game,” said Coyotes right wing and team captain Shane Doan. “Our game hasn’t been to the standard that we set for ourselves. Give them credit. They’ve played well. They’ve put us in a situation that has made it difficult.”
“I think we responded well against Chicago, responded well against Nashville,” said Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata. “Now, for some reason, our game is not where we would like it to be. On the other hand, we have to give them credit. They’re playing very well. They didn’t beat Vancouver for no reason, they didn’t beat St. Louis for no reason. They’re a good team. We feel we can play better. If we want to be successful and beat them, we’ll have to be better.”
“We’re not playing the way we can and they’re playing really well,” added Vrbata. “That’s what it is. We have to find a way to get better and make it tougher on them. But that frustration is there. I think it showed yesterday.”
Smith went into greater depth.
“They’re a great team,” he said. “I’m not taking anything away from them. They’re here for a reason. They beat two very good hockey teams that had great seasons to get themselves in the Conference Finals. They’re a hard team to play against, they have some skilled players that play a hard game. Their defense take care of their net very well. [They] have a great goaltender. They have the whole package that’s tough to penetrate.”
“I think they’re just a hungry team,” he added. “Like I said, they’re not in the Conference Finals by accident. They’ve done good things throughout the whole playoffs to give them chances to score. All I can worry about is stopping the puck. I have to do a better job of that. Everyone else will look after themselves.”
One thing is absolutely certain: the Coyotes cannot lose Game 3, going down 3-0 in the series, and expect to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Indeed, tonight’s game is a must-win situation.
“We feel we can improve and play a lot better than we have,” Smith stressed. “I think that’s a positive we can take. We haven’t played that well, not even close actually to what we’re capable of playing, and we’re finding ourselves in hockey games still.”
“We start with one game,” Smith added. “We need one win right now. That’s all we can control. We can’t win four games in one game. We’re not looking too far ahead. This series is far from over.”
“We just have to win the next game,” said Doan. “That is all there is to it. Nothing we can do about what has happened so far. We’ve got to find a way to win. That’s really all everyone is talking about. We’ve got a great group of guys that think we can win. That’s what we’re focused on and thinking about. There is no way you can’t say you are disappointed about being down 0-2 after being at home, but there’s nothing you can do about it now. We just have to win the next game. We’ll find a way.”
As for the Kings, their plan is for much more of the same, hammering another nail into the Coyotes’ coffin.
“As far as we’re concerned, they have to adjust to us,” Stoll noted. “If we keep playing our game, keep playing the way we want to play, that’s what they’ll have to do. We have to worry about ourselves. We can’t worry about them. Our game is in the right place, and we’re winning hockey games. We know we can get better in certain areas, and that’s what we have to focus on.”
Adding to the Coyotes’ challenge is that the Kings believe that they still have not peaked.
During interviews after Game 2, Penner said that the Kings still haven’t played their best game. He elaborated on that point on Wednesday.
“I don’t think there’s a team that has made it far into the playoffs that’s resting on the last game, saying ‘that’s the best we can play,’” he explained. “It’s that constant drive towards playing the perfect game that makes a team successful.”
“It’s always the best thing about being a player [when] you can say that, and you honestly believe that,” Sutter noted. “That’s a good thing. Sometimes it’s talked about, but that’s not the case, that they can actually go to another level. But as a group, clearly, we can.”
If Sutter is right, and the Kings continue to raise their level of play, the Coyotes are in even deeper trouble than anyone may already think.
NHL Video Of Supplementary Discipline Decision for Phoenix Coyotes Center Martin Hanzal:
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Raw Audio Interviews: Los Angeles Kings Practice, May 16, 2012
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Dustin Penner (5:12)
Dwight King (3:31)
Darryl Sutter (3:28)
2012 Western Conference Final, Los Angeles Kings vs. Phoenix Coyotes, Game 2 Highlights, May 15, 2012
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