And a surprising number of relatively unknown players stepping up in the playoffs, giving these two franchises their first taste of postseason success in quite some time.
For the Phoenix Coyotes, this is the first time they've been this deep in the playoffs in franchise history. For the Los Angeles Kings, it's been nearly 20 years, dating back to their brief trip to the finals in 1993.
These are division rivals, although that rivalry is pretty under the radar, aside from one late season meeting that turned into a fight fest. They split their season series this year, with Coyotes winger Radim Vrbata emerging as the top scorer with five goals and seven points in the six games.
Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar had five points apiece for the Kings, and both goaltenders posted save percentage of better than .930.
For a closer look at these two teams from the cities involved, we've enlisted the help of two bloggers who cover the Coyotes and Kings every day all year: Travis Hair from Five For Howling and Rudy Kelly from Battle of California.
1. Okay guys, if you had to pick one or two MVPs from your team so far for the playoffs, who would they be and why?
Coyotes: "The easy pick here is Mike Smith of course. It's difficult not to pick him when he's played some outstanding goal in both the previous series. Outside of him I think Oliver Ekman-Larsson has to be up there as at age 20 he's played some very composed and solid hockey and has looked like a veteran on the blueline."
Kings: "Well, Jonathan Quick is 8-1 with a 1.55 GAA and a .949 save percentage, so... yeah, probably him. The other one would be Anze Kopitar because he's outplayed Henrik Sedin and David Backes head-to-head in these playoffs. Kopitar is a revelation that people are just now starting to notice. He commands attention when he's on the ice, both offensively and defensively."
2. If you had to pick out one or two unheralded players or unsung heroes, who would they be and why?
Coyotes: "Rusty Klesla has been one of the biggest players on the defensive end but has also quietly been collecting the points as well. (He's tied for the most points for a defenseman with Keith Yandle and Dan Girardi.) Another player that has come up big is scoring leader Antoine Vermette."
Kings: "Probably the triumvirate of Rob Scuderi, Willie Mitchell, and Matt Greene on the blueline. Scuderi has paired with Drew Doughty to form one of the better shutdown pairings in the playoffs, Willie Mitchell has averaged about four minutes a game on both the power play and penalty kill, and Matt Greene... is big. (But seriously, he's good.) They're not sexy, but they're incredibly effective."
3. Your teams are now on the international stage. What is the single biggest stereotype about your team, its players and/or fans that you'd like to dispel?
Coyotes: "That the fans of the Coyotes are somehow not 'real' fans or that there aren't enough of them. Watch any of the playoff games so far this year, and you'll see a crowd rivaling those of any market. Sure we need more fans in the stands in the regular season, something new ownership will help with, but if you're still making attendance cracks just stop."
Kings: "The biggest stereotype about the team is that they can't score. They've had terrible shooting luck for much of this season but that has corrected of late. The biggest stereotype about the fans is that they're not terrible like most East Coast fanbases. Believe me, they can be just as dumb and ignorant as anyone!"
4. Why do you think your team will win this series?
Coyotes: "Why wouldn't they? They weren't suppose to beat the Blackhawks offensive skill and they frustrated them. They weren't supposed to beat the Predators because the Preds were just better at defence and goal scoring and they had a Vezina candidate goaltender. (Sound familiar?) Everyone is picking against them again, but the Coyotes just find ways to frustrate the opponent and win games. "
Kings: "The Coyotes are a very disciplined, committed team, but the Kings just have better top-end talent. The Kings are a better possession team, and they have more depth through the lineup, too. This is the one series I think the Kings can actually win... which of course means the Kings will lose."
James Mirtle's prediction: Kings in 7
The depth that Los Angeles has up front, and especially at centre ice, may well be the difference, but this is going to be a long, hard-fought series with a lot of games decided by one goal.
It's also unlikely that both goaltenders are able to maintain their incredible save percentages throughout the playoffs, so we may see either Smith or Quick falter in this series.Report Typo/Error