Follow @frozenroyaltyLOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — After his team dropped a 2-1 decision to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 3 of the best-of-seven 2012 Western Conference Finals, now finding themselves trailing the Kings in the series, 3-0, Phoenix Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett began grasping at straws.
“Personally, I’ve talked about this in a lot of meetings with Don [Maloney], our general manager, that the game is turning a little dishonest and it’s embellishment by players,” Tippett fumed. “When it’s done well, it’s very hard for the referees, very hard, because if you fall down near the boards, or you drop your stick, or you throw your head back, you’re putting the referee in a very tough situation.”
“You know, [it’s] not just our game tonight, you see it all through,” Tippett added. “The referees have a hard job. What it does, it makes the game dishonest. In actual fact, to make it work to your favor, you’ve got to do it more. You’ve got to do it. If everybody else is doing it, you better do it, too.”
“We saw more than one penalty out there for us and against us that were called that I thought were plays where there was embellishment. It’s too bad it has to go that way. It’s too bad you get to this point in the season that that becomes a factor, but it’s the reality of our game right now.”
Although Tippett was careful to give himself an out by making sure that he did not refer specifically to Game 3 against the Kings, the implication, especially given the context and the circumstances, was crystal-clear: he was placing at least some blame on the officials for his team’s fate in that game.
Still skeptical? Try this on for size…when asked what he thought about the officiating in Game 3 during his post-Game news conference, Tippett said, “if I told you what I really thought, I think it would cost me a lot of money.”
After those comments, several stories were published by league-wide writers that chided Tippett for his comments on the officiating, stating that was the least of his team’s problems.
The next day, I asked Tippett for his response to the media criticism.
“I said my piece on embellishment,” he replied. “It wasn’t geared toward that game last night. I talked about this from the start of the year. So I’ve said my piece on that.”
“Obviously, there’s frustration on our part that we would like to get better results,” he added. “Our margin for error is very slim when we feel like there’s some situations that happen in a game that go against you, [so] we’re looking for every little scratch we can find, every little piece of positive we can find to help us get back in the series. When that doesn’t happen, you get frustrated with it.”
Translation: Tippett may not be happy with the officiating in Game 3, or maybe even throughout the series against the Kings. But all he is trying to do is to place the thought of embellishment into the minds of the officials, hoping to get some kind of edge for his desperate team, something any coach in that situation would do.
But wait…there’s more.
“You give LA credit, they’ve played very well,” Tippett admitted. “I don’t think we’ve played as well in this series as we have the two previous. We’re down 3-0 because of it.”
And there you have it…Tippett knows the real reason his team is on the verge of being swept out of the 2012 Western Conference Finals.
Indeed, the Coyotes were a different team in the first round against Chicago, and in the second round against Nashville. In both of those series, they attacked the middle of the ice, were very strong in the defensive end, and their breakout plays were consistently solid.
But against the Kings, their defensive play has been good, but not as good as it was in the first and second rounds. As for their attack and their breakouts, well…
“This last series, we just haven’t been able to get enough guys to the level that we need to get to,” Tippet lamented. “We talked about that after the first couple games. The level is being raised here. We just haven’t been able to get to the next level. We need more people making plays at critical times. A lot of our execution, some of the execution starts in the defensive zone, the neutral zone, to get you to the offensive zone. We continue to turnover some pucks that I think are easy plays to make. We’ve had trouble executing.”
“Whether the speed has gone up, we can’t get to that level, whatever the reason is, we’re not generating enough, and not getting enough sustained stuff in the offensive zone to feel like we have a hard push on,” Tippett added. “We just haven’t had enough opportunities to get the pucks there. That’s the thing that I’m more critical of our group about, is finding opportunities to get it there. We just haven’t created enough.”
What has been rather obvious after three games is that the Coyotes have been unable to handle the Kings’ speed, size, and their relentless forecheck.
“They’re pressuring really hard, especially in our own end,” said Coyotes center Gilbert Brule. “The wingers, we’re having a hard time getting the puck out. You know, they’re pinching all the time. They’re having their centermen back them up, their third guy high all the time. It’s tough to get past them.”
“These guys play a similar game, in terms of style, with the smothering defense, smothering forecheck, as a group,” said Coyotes winger Ray Whitney. “They forecheck with five guys and backcheck with five guys. Your time and space is limited. It’s a pattern most teams would like to play. They’re doing it real well right now with team speed.”
“Their style is similar to Nashville, except they might be a little bit bigger on the wings,” added Whitney. “Their competitive level is as high as anyone’s. You’d expect that out of a Sutter team. There’s one thing that they do very well, that’s get the most out of players. You’re seeing it now. They’re a competitive group, playing well as a team. Like I said, they forecheck hard and heavy with purpose. They backcheck hard with purpose. That combination is what you’re seeing out there now, which is pretty dominating. If you can do that against the Vancouver Canucks and slow them down like they did, then it’s a good recipe for success. You’ve got to tip your hat to them. They’re doing a very good job at it.”
Heading into Sunday’s Game 4, the Coyotes are saying all the right things.
“It’s something that we have nothing to lose,” said Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle. “We’ve got to come out and play. It’s not like it’s never been done. We know in this group, we’re a resilient group, we can battle back and play hard.”
“Yeah, we believe we can do it,” said Coyotes center Antoine Vermette. “This is a team that has been successful in that department, especially on penalty-killing part. They don’t give you much. Five-on-five, five-on-four, they’re really aggressive. If you have a chance, it would be a great time to take advantage of it.”
“We’ve got to come out and play,” said Brule. “It’s not like it’s never been done. We know in this group, we’re a resilient group, we can battle back and play hard. It’s the Western Conference Final. We’ve got to play better hockey. This is the time of year where you’ve really got to bear down. To go down 3-0 is not the spot we want to be in, but I think if we get one win, that’s going to start something for us.”
Tippett started the “what do we have to lose” theme right after Game 3.
“What do we got to lose? Might as well come and play as hard as we can,” he said. “They say one game at a time. We’ve got nothing to lose. We might as well come and make sure we give a real honest evaluation of who we are and how we got here. It’s as simple as that. Play as hard as we can, we’ll see what happens.”
“We’re going to come and play as hard as we can,” he added. “Like I said, we’ve got nothing to lose. We might as well give everything we’ve got, because if you don’t do that, you’ll go the next day and feel like you should have. That’s the mindset we’ll have.”
Given how the Coyotes played their best hockey of the series in the first period of Game 3, but fizzled out after Coyotes center Daymond Langkow scored the first goal of the game early in the second period, at least one Coyotes player does not seem to be on the same page as the rest of his team.
“It’s tough,” Coyotes winger Mikael Boedker said after Game 3. “I mean, it could have gone both ways. I thought we played a lot better as the game went on. We came out strong in the first.”
If Boedker believes that his team played better after Langkow scored, it raises questions about how clearly the Coyotes are seeing what is really going on in this series, and about their ability to win Game 4.
2012 Western Conference Final, Phoenix Coyotes vs. Los Angeles Kings, Game 3 Highlights, May 17, 2012
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