GLENDALE, Ariz. – Los Angeles gave up goal from the centre line, another tying goal on a miscommunication.
The way the Kings dominated the rest of the game, not to mention how they’ve played on the road in the playoffs, those two slipups certainly weren’t going to derail their bid to take home-ice advantage from the Phoenix Coyotes.
Overwhelming Phoenix from the start, the Kings overcome a couple of rare miscues by goalie Jonathan Quick to open the Western Conference finals with a 4-2 victory over the Coyotes on Sunday night to remain unbeaten on the road in the playoffs.
Quick rebounded from his mistakes with some big saves in Phoenix’s closing flurry and Dwight King scored his second goal into an empty net in the final minute, giving Los Angeles its sixth straight road playoff victory, one short of the NHL record for a single post-season. They also won their final two road playoff games last year.
“We all know on our team that wasn’t going to beat us,” Kings centre Jarret Stoll said. “That’s just the way we played.”
With a week off after sweeping St. Louis in the second round, the Kings were far from rusty, dominating the Coyotes early. Los Angeles controlled the puck for long stretches of the first period to set up Anze Kopitar’s goal 4 minutes in on the way to their sixth straight victory.
Phoenix rallied to tie twice, the first one on a shot by Derek Morris that surprised Quick from the red line, but the Kings kept coming.
Dustin Brown had a goal and an assist, King had his first career two-goal game and Los Angeles outshot Phoenix 48-27.
Game 2 is Tuesday night in the desert.
“One of those things where at this time of year you got to just stick with the game plan, execute, things will fall into place if you work hard,” Brown said.
The Coyotes also had a long layoff—they finished off Nashville on Monday night—and weren’t quite as sharp.
On their heels from the start, they were outshot 17-4 in the first period and, despite twice tying the game, were fortunate it was close.
Morris had his surprising goal and Mikkel Boedker had another tying goal in the second period, but the Coyotes were outplayed pretty much the rest of the way to trail in a series for the first time this year.
“Their whole team was better than our team,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “We weren’t close in that game. We got beat in every facet of the game. Hopefully, we take some lessons from it and get better for the next game.”
This was the Western Conference finals few expected.
The Coyotes weren’t picked to even make the playoffs, entering the season with an unproven No. 1 goalie and no owner for the third straight year.
Grinding and relying on Mike Smith’s breakout season in goal, the Coyotes won their first division title as an NHL franchise and beat Chicago and Nashville, two supposedly better teams, in the first two rounds to make their inaugural appearance in the conference finals.
The Kings had expectations, but didn’t quite live up to them.
Los Angeles was among the NHL’s worst-scoring teams all season, costing coach Terry Murray his job in December, and squeaked into the playoffs as the last team in the West behind Quick’s stellar season.
The Kings, too, were underdogs in the playoffs and didn’t seem to mind, racing through Vancouver and St. Louis to reach the conference finals for the first time since 1993 and become the first No. 8 seed to knock off the top two teams in the same playoffs.
That set up what figured to be a testy series between Pacific Division rivals.
The Coyotes and Kings know each other well, playing six times every season, a familiarity that’s led to some brutality, including a fight between captains Shane Doan and Brown in February.
Playing for a spot in the Stanley Cup finals, it didn’t figure to let up any.
Game 1 was plenty testy, with multiple scrums, hard hits and a roughing penalty on a goalie (Smith) in the first period—a trend that continued throughout the game.
“We’ve played these guys a lot over the years and this time of year, you do whatever you can do to get an edge,” Brown said.
The Kings had it against Phoenix early, swarming to Coyotes while getting the game’s first eight shots. Kopitar scored his fourth goal of the playoffs early on, scooping up a loose puck in front before flipping a backhander past Smith’s glove side.
With Los Angeles still in control—a 12-3 advantage in shots—Morris caught everyone off-guard, particularly Quick, by ripping a slap shot from the red (centre) line past the Vezina Trophy finalist. That tied it at 1 and left Kings coach Darryl Sutter smirking in disbelief on the bench.
“It’s a rare bad goal against them,” Sutter said. “Our team was resilient enough just to play through it.”
They sure did.
Los Angeles kept up the pressure in the second, setting up King’s rebound goal on a 2-on-1 with Mike Richards midway through.
As they have all post-season, the Coyotes answered, scoring with just under 2 minutes left in the period. Boedker got the goal, one-timing a pass from Doan after Antoine Vermette won a battle behind the goal and Quick had to scramble back to the crease.
Brown put the Kings up 3-2 early in the third period, beating Smith stick side on a mini breakaway for his seventh goal of the playoffs after a long, right-on-the-tape pass from Slava Voynov.
The Coyotes had been resilient throughout the playoffs, snatching a few wins after being outplayed.
They had no answer this time, unable to get a puck past Quick in their closing flurry before giving up King’s empty-netter with less than a minute left.
“They played better than us,” Doan said. “They beat us in all kind of different areas. It is frustrating when you get beat, disappointing when you get beat. It is no good especially when you don’t play as well as you can.”
They better figure it out quick or it could be a short series against the hottest team in the playoffs.
Notes: Coyotes D Adrian Aucoin didn’t play after sustaining an undisclosed injury in Game 5 against Nashville. … Kopitar has seven points his past four games. … The Kings have won eight of 14 playoff series after taking Game 1. … Los Angeles has killed off 24 straight penalties after holding Phoenix scoreless in five tries.