GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Kings were outshooting and outworking the Phoenix Coyotes in the opener of the Western Conference finals, beating them along the boards, in the faceoff circle and by almost every imaginable measure. But through two periods the score was tied, the only numbers that mattered.
"There have been some times in games where we haven't been very good, but we've managed to hang around," Coyotes Coach Dave Tippett said. "A bend, don't break kind of thing."
The Kings were doing all they could to break the Coyotes' resolve but were getting nowhere. "They're a pretty veteran team, one of those teams that keeps coming at you," winger Brad Richardson said. "They make those smart plays holding on to pucks and they made it here for a reason, just like we did.
"They kept fighting back and we kept going at them. Even though they tied it up, we kept fighting."
Because the Kings didn't let up, they seized control of a game that might have gone either way. Their 4-2 victory also set the tone of the series, which resumes Tuesday atJobing.com Arena.
The Coyotes got a break on their first goal Sunday, a 98-foot bouncer that skipped past Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, but they earned their second goal, late in the second period, through their alert forechecking. The Kings absorbed those blows and delivered a decisive stroke early in the third, when defenseman Slava Voynov's long lead pass put Dustin Brown in behind the confused Coyotes' defense for the winner.
The Coyotes did break, subdued by the force of the Kings' greater skill and will.
"I thought we were sort of getting a little better in the second period, had some scoring chances, time in the offensive zone," Phoenix winger Taylor Pyatt said Monday. "But that goal gave the momentum back to them and we never really recovered from there."
The difference in the game was clear to Kings center Jarret Stoll.
"It's the difference in our team," he said. "Last year or two years ago, we might have pulled back and started going downhill from there, started self-destructing. And now we just have that confidence within our group that shift after shift we can put waves out there, lines playing good hockey in the offensive zone. And nothing's bothering us. Not even that first goal. It did not deflate us even one bit."
Stoll said their confidence was born late in the season while they fought for a playoff spot and has grown during their upsets of the No. 1- and No. 2-seeded teams during a remarkable 9-1 playoff run.
"Beating teams that we beat and playing how we played, it's pretty hard to not get that confidence as a group and know that no matter what happens, don't let it bother us. Just play the game, keep playing our game and let them adjust to us," Stoll said. "We know when we play that way, so far it's been good. We've won."
Their composure comes from the calmness of Coach Darryl Sutter and from the knowledge that Quick will bounce back after even the most questionable of goals, as he did Sunday.
"Quickie came back and played great," Richardson said. "He played unbelievable in the third and made some huge saves."
The traditional requirements for a Stanley Cup champion are strength in goal, on defense and up the middle, and the Kings have checked off all those boxes. Centers Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Stoll and Colin Fraser have been great assets for the Kings. If the Coyotes only suspected that before, they know it for sure now.
"If we don't raise our level, we're going to go home," Phoenix center Martin Hanzal said.
The Coyotes promised to make tactical adjustments Tuesday and that's another victory for the Kings. Their confidence and game plan are intact. The Coyotes can't say the same.