GLENDALE, Ariz. — As the sun and the Phoenix Coyotes sank slowly in the West, the key question after the Kings' 4-0 conference finals victory Tuesday was whether the NHL, which has operated the Coyotes franchise for three years, will suspend one or more of its players for the frustration-driven fouls they committed.
The lesser of the evils was Shane Doan's hit on Kings forward Trevor Lewis at 16 minutes 29 seconds of the second period at Jobing.com Arena. Doan, the Coyotes' captain, drove Lewis into the boards after Lewis had turned his back, and got a major boarding penalty and a game misconduct while Lewis was treated for a cut and bloodied nose.
"Cheap," Kings forward Dustin Penner said.
The more dangerous blow was leveled by center Martin Hanzal on Kings captain Dustin Brown after a long and rapid approach and a push that sent Brown's head into the glass at 11:01 of the third period. Hanzal had Brown lined up and shoved him hard, the kind of hit the NHL has cracked down on this season.
"Cheap," Penner said. "Indicative of the score. They were frustrated and they're both reckless hits."
But will NHL chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan suspend Doan or Hanzal — or both — for Game 3, to be played Thursday at Staples Center?
"They probably won't suspend them because our guys didn't get carried off on a stretcher," Penner said. "So it will be interesting to see."
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter called the hit on Lewis "probably more of a hockey play.... I didn't really have a big problem with that." But the hit on Brown, he said, "I don't think the puck was even close, was it? That's about it."
That's not really it, though. Because the Coyotes, after losing the first two games of this series at home, must now try to stop the onrushing Kings on the road, possibly without one or two of their top-six forwards.
Phoenix played a strong first period yet trailed, 1-0. Even after the first of Jeff Carter's three goals, scored at 4:47 of the second period thanks largely to a strength move by Penner, the Coyotes weren't out of it.
But they lost their discipline and their cool, with Doan's misdeed preceding a nasty slash by goalie Mike Smith to the back of Brown's leg and giving the Kings a five-on-three advantage they cashed in.
In the third, Hanzal's hit and a Derek Morris kneeing penalty against Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi topped the miscreant chart, but the Kings paid them back in the best possible way: by winning.
"We're not here to worry about it," Scuderi said when asked if the Coyotes' actions were beyond the norm. "We came to get the game. We got it. Fortunately, all of the guys that were on the receiving end of those hits are all fine and we can move on and go back to Los Angeles."
They will return with a 2-0 series lead and club-record seven-game playoff winning streak. If the Coyotes' actions sprang from frustration at the Kings' continued superiority in speed, strength and scoring balance, the Kings are only too happy to continue to discourage them at every turn.
"If that's the case, we've got to keep going," Brown said. "We've got to keep finishing our checks, keep being over top.....
"When you have that going, whether it's your best players or your role players finishing checks, just doing anything they can to get in your way, it can get frustrating. The intensity is high and the pressure at this stage in the playoffs. It's important for us to understand that if they are frustrated we've got to keep doing what we're doing."
If winning means taking hits and wearing ice packs after games, the Kings are willing to pay that price.
"I know you're probably going to roll your eyes when I say this, but we haven't played our best game yet," Penner said. "But that's the mentality you want to have in the playoffs, that you're never satisfied. You can always be better and you have to have that mentality where you keep on improving and keep on improving until you're finally finished and you reach your goal."