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First look: Kings vs. Coyotes

Kings and Phoenix expect a defensive series. The Kings have gotten this far only once; it's uncharted territory for the Coyotes.

May 08, 2012|By Lisa Dillman

Canada's Team stood between the Kings and a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals nearly two decades ago.

Now, it's merely the NHL's team.

The NHL has owned the Coyotes since 2009 when it pulled the franchise out of bankruptcy for about $140 million. A warning to the Kings' lively Twitter feed: Mocking the Coyotes is like tweaking the NHL. Do it at your own peril.

(But primers on bankruptcy, debt ratings and the power of the Arizona watchdog group the Goldwater Institute are best saved for another time.)

The way the Coyotes have managed to proceed, despite years of distraction and turmoil, is a future case study for an MBA program.

At the end of January the Coyotes were 22-20-8 and Coach Dave Tippett, once an assistant in the Kings' organization, looked like a drained man, lamenting they had traveled about 28,000 miles in a six-week period.

They managed not only to pull it together but also finish the season in a dazzling rush, winning their last five games to take the Pacific Division. Including that final push and the playoffs, the Coyotes are on a 13-3 run.

This Kings-Coyotes series to determine the Western Conference champion will be advertised as low-scoring and rightly so. Kings goalie and Vezina finalist Jonathan Quick has a stunning save percentage of .949 in the playoffs and goals-against average of 1.55. Phoenix goalie Mike Smith sits at .948 and 1.77.

It's little wonder there were three shutouts in the season series between the teams — Quick had two and Smith had one — as the Kings and Coyotes split their six meetings. Five of the six games were decided by a goal.

The second-to-last meeting between the teams was a fight-filled affair Feb. 16 at Staples Center in which Kings captain Dustin Brown squared off with Coyotes counterpart Shane Doan, and Kings center Mike Richards took on Martin Hanzal, who has about six inches on Richards.

Even Smith got into it, going after Anze Kopitar, and later said, "I felt bad when I saw it was Kopi."

Coincidentally — or not — a TV crew assigned to follow Richards for 36 hours was on hand.

Who knew that "NHL 36" would be a preview of the Western Conference finals?

How they match up (regular-season statistics):

Top scorers

KINGS: Kopitar 25 goals, 76 points; Justin Williams 22 goals, 59 points; Brown 22 goals, 54 points. Brown is the playoff leader with 11 points and six goals in nine games.

COYOTES: Ray Whitney 24 goals, 77 points; Radim Vrbata 35 goals, 62 points; Shane Doan 22 goals, 50 points. In the playoffs, forward Antoine Vermette, who was acquired just before the trade deadline from the Columbus Blue Jackets, is the leading scorer with nine points in 11 games.

Goaltenders

KINGS: Quick: 35-21-13, 1.95 goals-against average, .930 save percentage; 10 shutouts.

COYOTES: Smith: 38-18-10, 2.21 goals-against average, .930 save percentage; eight shutouts.

Penalty kill

KINGS: 87% (fourth); COYOTES: 85.5% (eighth). The Kings were flawless in the second round of the playoffs, killing all 17 Blues' power-play opportunities.

Power play

KINGS: 17% (17th), COYOTES: 13.6 (29th). The Kings are four for 47 in the playoffs (8.5%) and the Coyotes five for 31 (16.1%).

How they got here

KINGS: The Kings advanced past the second round for the second time in franchise history, and became the first No. 8-seeded team to knock off No. 1 (Vancouver) and the No. 2 (St. Louis). This is their best playoff result since they defeated Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto to reach the finals in 1993, losing to Montreal in five games.

COYOTES: Phoenix defeated Chicago, four games to two, in the first round as five of the six games went to overtime, then took out Nashville in five games, reaching the conference final for the first time in 33 years as an NHL franchise. The franchise moved to Phoenix from Winnipeg in 1996.

They said it

KINGS: "I don't think he realizes how good he is," Justin Williams on Jonathan Quick.

COYOTES: "Coyote ugly," Mike Smith on how they keep winning the close road games.

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter.com/reallisa

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