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For Coyotes Coach Dave Tippett, obstacles are nothing new

Former Kings assistant has led Phoenix to the playoffs three seasons in a row. The low-budget team won the Pacific Division and soon will meet L.A. for the NHL Western Conference title.

May 09, 2012|By Helene Elliott
  • Phoenix Coach Dave Tippett, a former Kings assistant coach, speaks with his players during a timeout against Nashville on April 27.
Phoenix Coach Dave Tippett, a former Kings assistant coach, speaks with… (Christian Petersen / Getty…)

Phoenix Coyotes Coach Dave Tippett knows how electrifying the atmosphere at Staples Center can be when the Kings are successful in the playoffs. Before this season they hadn't won a first-round series since 2001, when Tippett was an assistant to Andy Murray and created a power play that was among the NHL's most potent.

With the Coyotes and Kings soon to meet for the Western Conference title, Tippett will experience that atmosphere again, but from a different bench and perspective.

"I remember that series when we beat Detroit and it was an unbelievable feeling in that building," he said in a phone interview Wednesday. "Hopefully, we can regain that excitement in both buildings. It should be very entertaining for the fans."

Tippett guided the low-budget, league-owned Coyotes through several minefields to win the Pacific Division this season. But that's nothing new for Tippett, who succeeded Wayne Gretzky nine days before the start of the 2009-10 season and has led the team to the playoffs three straight seasons.

When the Coyotes couldn't afford to keep free agent goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov last summer and needed a replacement, Tippett remembered goalie Mike Smith from their days together in Dallas. Smith became the Coyotes' backbone, compiling a 2.21 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. He has sustained that excellence (1.77, .948) in playoff victories over Chicago and Nashville.

"We started out the season pretty well. I think we answered some questions, the major one being who would be Bryzgalov's replacement. Smith came in and solidified that early for us," Tippett said.

"The mid-part of our schedule we had a real tough schedule and we ran into some injuries, and between that and a heavy schedule we weren't as consistent as we'd like to be. We came out of the All-Star break and didn't lose in regulation in February and that got us back into the hunt. And then the last weekend of the season we were battling to make sure we had a playoff spot and we ended up a division winner.

"So it has been a bit of a roller coaster but a fun ride, and I give our players a ton of credit for just hanging around and giving ourselves a chance to be a good playoff team."

Tippett said he still has strong ties to Los Angeles and his youngest daughter, Natalie, a recent USC graduate, lives here. He's looking forward to a series that matches similarly smart, defense-oriented teams.

"There's usually a defining play, a defining situation in the game that determines the outcome. It might be a great save, a power play, an unfortunate mistake," he said. "I think you're going to see closely contested games and the team that has the ability to capitalize on an event, whether good or bad, sometimes those are the difference-makers in the game.

"I think it should be a great series. I think it's great for both franchises. Lots of excitement, lots of notoriety for the game in both cities. L.A. is obviously a little farther ahead than we, with more history, but I think it's great for our franchise also and for hockey at the grass roots."

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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