The Los Angeles Kings made their first Stanley Cup Finals since 1993—and just the second in franchise history—when they went overtime in Phoenix last night to beat the Coyotes 4-3 and capture the Western Conference finals in five games. The win completes a run where the #8 seed Kings not only beat the top three seeds—Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix—in their postseason run, but went 12-2 in the process. The NHL playoffs is unpredictable and the elements of random chance play a bigger role here than in most sports, but there’s nothing random about winning 12 of 14 games at the most important time of year. The Kings have peaked at the right time.
It’s the offensive prowess that’s really come out of nowhere. Goaltender Jonathan Quick has been one of the best at his craft all year and a reason I felt Los Angeles would pull the first-round upset over Vancouver. But in the ensuing two rounds, the Kings faced opponents with great goalies in their own right and it was the five players between the nets who stood up and gave Los Angeles the edge, and that happened again last night.
Phoenix played with the urgency appropriate to their situation and got an early power play goal from Taylor Pyatt, an unknown forward who would have a good game in this spot. The next Coyote power play produced another goal…but it was for Los Angeles, as Anze Kopitar scored shorthanded to tie the game.
The second period was wild, and Los Angeles launched a stunning 20 shots on goal. I’ve harped on this with Phoenix throughout their playoff run and once again the defense was unable to give any help to goalie Mike Smith. By the time all was said and done, the Kings had 51 shots for the game—in fairness, the overtime was nearly an entire period—but while Smith didn’t have his best game last night, he was always in the position of having to heroically save his team. That only works for so long. After Phoenix got a 2-1 lead, the Kings got consecutive goals from defenseman Drew Doughty, who’s been an understated contributor to the offense in the postseason, and then center Mike Richards lit the lamp on assist from key winger Dustin Penner. But before the period was over, Pyatt fed Keith Yandle and these defensive-minded teams were in a 3-3 shootout.
No goals were scored in the third period, though the Phoenix offense does deserve credit. They put 41 shots on Quick, one of the few times the entire postseason the Coyotes really challenged an opposing goaltender and veteran forward Shane Doan played like a man who wanted to extend his season, getting five shots. But with Kopitar, Richards and Dustin Brown leading an assault brigade at the other end it was too much. Nearly 18 minutes into overtime, Penner scored the goal that clinched the West.
Los Angeles now gets some time to rest up for the Finals. New York hosts New Jersey in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals tonight, with that series tied at two games apiece. The Rangers were decisively outplayed two straight times in Jersey, though goalie Henrik Lundqvist carried them to one win. Between the nets, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk have been superior to Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan. That needs to change for New York tonight or they’re going to go back across the George Washington Bridge for a must-win game on Friday.