Honestly, who would have thought that THIS would be our Western Conference Finals matchup heading into the playoffs? After the first round of play, I think everyone’s original predictions had been pretty torn apart, but even then, I don’t think many people would have predicted that these two teams would meet in the Conference Final. I had L.A. beating St. Louis in 7 games, so I partially got that one right. The Kings didn’t waste any time in ousting the Blues. As for the other series in the Western Conference, I said that Nashville would prevail in 6 games. Obviously I mis-fired on that one. Either way, here we are with the Coyotes and Kings ready to square off with the chance at playing for the Stanley Cup on the line. Let’s start with Phoenix.
After their first round victory over the Chicago Blackhawks, I get the feeling that many people felt that was as much damage as this team was capable of doing. I felt that same way. Well, I, and some of you, were proven wrong. In their series with Nashville, the Coyotes played phenomenal defense and held the Predators to just 9 goals in the series. A lot of that is due to the play of Mike Smith in net, but I’ll get to him in a little bit. We saw it in the first round against Chicago, and we saw it again against Nashville. The Coyotes are one of the hardest working teams in the NHL. Because of the fact that they do not have a ton of fire power or superstars, each and every player on that roster is forced to give 110% effort every second that they are on the ice to make up for their lack of fire power, as previously mentioned. Their defense has really stepped it up in the playoffs as well. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is turning into a superstar on the blue line. The kid is just 20 years old, but he is playing like a 10 year veteran. On more than one occasion, he has been referred to by hockey analysts as a “future Norris Trophy winner.” That’s how good he has been for the Coyotes in these playoffs. Him, along with Keith Yandle and Rostislav Klesla, have been playing some of the best defense that we have seen this year, which has led to 2 straight playoff series victories. Now, how about the play of Mike Smith in net for the Coyotes? He is third among active goalies still in the playoffs in goals against average, and leads all playoffs goalies this year with 2 shutouts. Without him, Phoenix would not be where they are right now. If they want to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, they need to keep on doing what they have been doing. Their defense needs to stay strong (currently second in goals against per game), and Mike Smith has to continue his hot play in net. Offensively, they cannot rely on getting many “pretty” goals against Jonathan Quick. They will have to find a way to score some ugly goals against L.A. if they want to advance.
The Kings have pretty much rolled through the playoffs thus far, knocking out the number 1 seed Canucks in 5 games, and now the number 2 seed Blues in just 4 games. Jonathan Quick is 8-1 in net for L.A., and ranks first in goals against average. Heading into the playoffs, many people questioned whether the Kings’ offense would be strong enough to beat Vancouver in the first round. Well, it was. Heading into the second round, the same question was asked: “Will their offense continue to produce enough goals against St. Louis’ defense to beat them in a 7 game series?” Again, the Kings proved that their offense is good enough to beat one of the best defensive teams in hockey. Through all of this, no one has really questioned whether or not Jonathan Quick is good enough to beat these teams, and rightfully so. He is a Vezina Trophy finalist, and most people expected him to play that way in the playoffs, which he has more than done. Offensively for the Kings, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar have led the way, with 11 and 10 points respectively in these playoffs. Brown also leads the team in hits, with 39. The L.A. captain has really stepped up his game through the first two rounds, and they will need him to continue doing so moving forward. If the Kings want to continue their winning ways and eliminate the Coyotes, they need to out-work and wear down Phoenix. Right now, the Coyotes have a ton of confidence heading into this series coming off of their first 2 playoff series victories since moving to Phoenix. The Kings need to come out in Game 1 on the road and play a great game to take away some of the Coyotes’ confidence. If L.A. can continue to produce offensively against yet another top goalie in the league in Mike Smith, they should be just fine in this series. With Jonathan Quick playing the way he has been playing lately, goals will be tough to come by for the Coyotes, who are already somewhat of an offensively challenged team. Along with Quick, the defense in front of him has been playing excellent through the first two rounds (ranked first in goals against average), making it that much tougher for the opposition to score. This team has been firing on all cylinders through the first two rounds, and I don’t expect that to change. This is going to be a very defensive series with not a lot of offense, so special teams will play a huge role in the outcome of this series.
-Los Angeles wins series, 4-2.