#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings
If you asked a thousand people at the start of the playoffs who they thought would be in the Western Conference Finals, I can guarantee that not many would have chosen this match up. In fact, I would argue that I would be able to count those Nostradami (clearly, the pluralization of Nostradamus) on one hand, because let’s face it, no one saw this coming. Sure, some people picked Phoenix to get through the Blackhawks. It was a long shot, but there are upsets in every round of the playoffs, right? Right. So, why not.
Then they were matched up against for many, the Western Conference favorites, the Nashville Predators. There wasn’t an analyst out there that even put Phoenix in contention for this series. Everyone said that Nashville was the better team. They said that the Preds played a similar game to the Coyotes, but Nashville had better offensive talent, a bigger defense and their goaltending was just as good, if not better. Everyone said it would be over quick. Well, they were partially right. The Coyotes took the Predators by storm and closed the series out in five games. They played the same game that they played against the Hawks, but they tightened things up. They were better on the forecheck and they continued to capitalize when it mattered.
Phoenix is a confident team. I can’t state that enough and that’s a dangerous thing for the opposition. I’m not saying that LA isn’t, I’ll get to that, but Phoenix is playing with a level of confidence that is rarely seen in hockey. What do I mean by that? I mean, that every single player is contributing every single night. Sure, no one has their best game every night (besides Mike Smith), but the weight is divided among the forwards and the defenders. If Shane Doan isn’t going to get it done one night, Boedker will. If Boedker won’t, Brule will, etc. You get the point. The team’s depth shows up every single night. There was a lot of worry in game five that they might falter without their trusty defensemen Rusty Klesla, but David Schlemko picked up the minutes and fulfilled his role pretty well.
I guess what I am saying is that this team knows that everyone is pulling their weight. They know that that everyone is giving 110% every shift, every game and they know that everyone is in this for the long run. That’s where it gets scary, because they are playing like champions. You know, when I first moved out here and we started watching the Coyotes, we joked around a lot. We kept saying that it was going to be a Phoenix Coyotes vs. Philadelphia Flyers Stanley Cup. It was a nice thought, but let’s face it, it was unlikely. I remember thinking that yeah, it was probable that we would see the Flyers in there, but not the Coyotes.
Not with the ownership situation. Not with the possibility of being in another city next year. Not with so much uncertainty there. I mean, it has to affect them mentally. I think that we saw that a lot last year when they played the Red Wings, but this year is different. Very different. They’re confident and they know that they can do this. I know that I keep saying that., that they’re playing with confidence, but there’s not another word that I have to describe it. Watch them play and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.
Despite the fact that the Coyotes are the number three seed and have taken out the Chicago Blackhawks and the Nashville Predators, they are once again being acknowledged as the underdogs, and to be honest, I can see why. The Los Angeles Kings are firing on ALL cylinders. Yes, it’s so serious that I capitalized all. They took down the Canucks with relative ease and then they swept the St. Louis Blues. I have to say that I didn’t see that coming. I had the Kings taking the Blues down, but not in four games. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me, but no team should be swept. Not at this stage in the game, but the Kings had an answer for everything that the Blues had up their sleeves. Personally, I think that the absence of Halak made all of the difference in the world. Again, I think that a lot of Elliot’s struggles were mental. He played a great series, but I think that he would have put up those surreal numbers that he put up in the regular season if the mental pressure wasn’t there.
That’s hockey though, especially playoff hockey. It is about pressure and how you react to it and this Kings team is pushing all of the right buttons. They are getting some scoring help from their bottom 6, but really, this team is all about their big players being the big players. Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and even Dustin Penner are playing incredible hockey. I know, I didn’t believe that Mr. Pancake himself had it in him, but it’s true. This team is playing like the team that everyone predicted that they would be. If they can keep that tempo going and if Jeff Carter can put the puck in the back of the net, then this team is going to be very scary and very difficult to beat.
Especially with the physical presence of Mike Richards and Dustin Brown. Both players are playing perfect two-way hockey and every chance that they get, they are making someone feel it. They are landing big, clean hits and pulling all of the momentum in their favor. In my opinion, these are the two players that the Coyotes are going to have to watch out for. Sure, you have to look out for Kopitar. You have to look out for Stoll and Williams. You even have to look out for Carter and Penner, but Richards and Brown are the game changers. They are the guys that are going to go out there and make something happen. If the Coyotes want to take this series, they are going to have to hit just as hard and they are going to have to keep the momentum in check.
The regular season was split 3-3. There was a lot of physicality and for the most part the games were tight. I feel like this series will be split right down the middle. I feel like we are going to see some of the most defensive, stubborn hockey that we’ve seen yet in the playoffs and while that doesn’t sound exciting, it means that the goals that do go in are going to be big.
I know that on paper the LA Kings match up better. They have better top end talent. They have a solid defensive core and Jonathon Quick is playing just as well, if not better than Mike Smith, but I still can’t count the Coyotes out. Sure, I’d like them to win because I have tickets to the Stanley Cup Finals if they make it, but this isn’t just about hometown allegiance. This is having faith in a team that I’ve seen play their hearts out. This is having faith in a team that I’ve seen play with confidence and that trusts every single player on the ice at all times. This is about having faith in a team that wants to win.
Either way, the one thing that I can guarantee is that this series will be long. It’s going to be all about bounces, about actions and reactions and in the end, one team is going to pull through and make life very, very difficult for the New York Rangers or the New Jersey Devils.
Prediction: Coyotes in 7