There are many ways to dissect the Los Angeles Kings’ 3-0 series lead in the NHL’s Western Conference final, but the easiest is probably this: One player, Kings’ rookie Dwight King (a player that few had ever heard of before the 2012 playoffs began) has scored more goals in the series (four) than the entire Phoenix Coyotes have (three).
It doesn’t matter how well the Coyotes defend at this stage of the game. If Phoenix wants to avoid a sweep in Sunday afternoon’s fourth game at Staples Centre, they’ll simply need to score more goals. All the talk about diving and embellishment is just window dressing. Somebody on the Coyotes’ side needs to get more pucks behind Kings’ goaltender Jonathan Quick, a Vezina Trophy finalist, who is winning the netminding duel so far in the series.
According to Coyotes’ coach Dave Tippett, the first period of Thursday night’s third game – in which Phoenix actually held an edge on the shot clock and played its most inspired hockey of the series – was really the only time they made life hard for Quick.
“Until we continue to test him for an extended period of time,” said Tippett, “he hasn’t had it very tough down there.
“They’ve done a good job of protecting him, but I don’t think we’ve created enough around him.
“That’s the thing I’m most critical of our group about – finding opportunities.”
The Coyotes will get centre Martin Hanzal back for the fourth game, after he served a one-game suspension for checking Kings’ captain Dustin Brown into the boards from behind. From his press-box perch, Hanzal praise for what he saw from the Kings – a team that quickly rallied from a one-goal deficit in Thursday’s 2-1 win and dominated the play in the second half.
“They have a good team, a very good team,” said Hanzal. “They have a great goalie, a great defence. They did something good because they beat Vancouver, St. Louis and now they’re beating us 3-0.
“But we still have a chance. That’s why they call it a best-of-seven. We’ve got to beat them Sunday.”
If the Coyotes do force a fifth game, it will be back in Glendale on Tuesday night. If not, L.A. could earn a week or more on the sidelines, awaiting the winner in the Eastern Conference match-up between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils. Thus far in these playoffs, the Kings have used their rest intelligently, without losing their edge. On Friday, coach Darryl Sutter gave the majority of his regulars the day off. They were back at practice on Saturday, in preparation for a game that begins at 12 noon Pacific time.
The Kings have held a 3-0 lead in each of the previous two series, and only the Canucks were able to extend it to five.
Defenceman Rob Scuderi played for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008, a team that had a similarly almost uncontested run to the Stanley Cup final. But when the Penguins got there, they promptly dropped the first two games – both shutout losses – and ultimately were defeated in six games. The next year, they turned the tables on Detroit and won.
According to Scuderi, he hasn’t thought too much about the similarities between now and then, noting: “You’d rather have a lead in a series than to be in a battle constantly. The only thing that might be a little bit of a battle is when you have too much time off and are trying to get right back at it, especially in a conference final or a final, whatever round you’re going to next.
“Sometimes, too much time off a little bit of a pain.”
The Kings could make one line-up change for Sunday’s game, after centre Colin Fraser returned from a quick trip home to deal with a family matter. If Fraser goes back in, Sutter could drop Kyle Clifford from the line-up.
For the Coyotes, Hanzal will go back in and defenceman Adrian Aucoin is a possibility as well. Aucoin says he’s physically ready to go; and it will be up to Tippett to decide if he’ll be activated or not. Rookie defenceman Michael Stone played the last two games, after David Schlemko played the opener.
“Obviously, I’m hoping to play,” said Aucoin. “It’s been real frustrating watching.”