EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – The Los Angeles Kings have maintained their discipline and cool during a dominant playoff run that has them two wins away from the team’s first Stanley Cup finals appearance since 1993 with Wayne Gretzky.
They’ve frustrated the Phoenix Coyotes with a mix of balanced scoring, shot-limiting defence and solid goaltending in building a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals. If the Coyotes are ticked off, and they sure played like it in losing Game 2, they face even more of an uphill climb in trying to stop the Kings on the road.
The Coyotes will have to do it without one of their top forwards. Martin Hanzal was suspended one game by the NHL on Wednesday for a huge hit on Kings captain Dustin Brown in Game 2.
Hanzal was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct for boarding at 11:01 of the third period Tuesday night. He will miss Game 3 on Thursday night at Staples Center.
The punishment wasn’t severe enough, according to Kings centre Jarret Stoll.
“Hopefully, he gets two games,” Stoll said before the league’s ruling came down. “Hopefully, he knew that Brownie was in a vulnerable position. If you’re going to finish your check, maybe you grab him and you ride him in and then you close him that way on the boards. You don’t shove him in the boards, especially when he’s 5, 6 feet from the boards.”
Speaking before Hanzal’s punishment was announced, Coyotes captain Shane Doan said, “He’s very, very valuable and obviously a huge part of our team. Hopefully, they’ll understand it’s a situation where he really didn’t have a choice.”
The game’s other noteworthy hit was by Doan on Kings forward Trevor Lewis in the second period, when Lewis spun and faced the boards an instant before Doan hit him. Doan got a major boarding penalty and a game misconduct; Lewis’ nose was bloodied after he was driven into the boards.
“The Doan thing was kind of tough,” Stoll said. “It’s a hockey play.”
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett agreed.
“I know there’s lots of focus put on hits from behind, but to me that’s a hockey play where a player puts himself in a vulnerable position,” he said. “If you’ve ever played the game, if you’re in that position, in a split second if that guy turns, you can’t stop.”
Doan’s hit came before Coyotes goalie Mike Smith slashed Brown’s leg, with Doan’s penalty leading to a 5-on-3 advantage that the Kings parlayed into another goal.
“It doesn’t make any sense to retaliate,” Stoll said. “We were in a good situation to not retaliate. They want to get something going and set the tone maybe for the next game and maybe that was part of their mindset, but we just got to stay within the game, stay within ourselves.”
The Kings bring a franchise-record seven-game playoff winning streak into Game 3, having outscored Phoenix 8-2 so far in the series. Adding to the Coyotes’ frustration was the fact that they were outshot 40-24 in Game 2, including 15-8 in the first period.
“They got a couple of lucky bounces to get going and once you get going, it piles on itself and confidence is an amazing thing,” Doan said after practice in Arizona. “So far, things have gone right for them in the playoffs and that’s a credit to the way they’ve played, the way they’ve been coached. Once it starts to roll, it seems easier. We’ve got to find a way to get ours rolling.”
Smith spoke to his teammates after Game 2 about not playing their best hockey, and he included himself in the criticism.
“It’s one thing to lose when you’re playing your best, but when you’re losing games when you’re not playing up to your capability, that’s why it’s frustrating,” he said. “We start with one win right now and that’s all can worry about. We can’t win four games in one game. We’re not looking too far ahead and this series is far from over.”
The Coyotes were called for 13 penalties totalling 56 minutes on Tuesday. Jeff Carter scored two of his three goals while the Kings had a 5-on-3 advantage.
“Frustration can’t get the better of us,” Tippett said. “Sometimes people expect us to come out and dominate the game, but that’s not going to happen. We’re a team that hangs 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 need to get back to playing the way we can, playing our style and find a way to win.”
AP Sports Writer John Marshall in Glendale, Ariz., contributed to this report.