Western Conference finals
Game 3 (Kings lead series, 2-0)
Kings vs. Phoenix Coyotes at Staples Center, 6 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. In the mix – One of the greatest (and busiest) sports weekends in L.A. history begins a little early tonight. The Kings kick off six playoff games in four days, joining the Lakers and Clippers in their postseason runs. There’s also a weekend series at Dodger Stadium and a bicycle race that will come to an end right outside Staples Center, just as hockey fans are pouring in the doors. The Kings have been a sideshow in Southern California's sports landscape for most of the last 20 years, it’s about time they’re finally part of the main event.
2. First to three – The Kings are 12-23 all-time in Game 3s, but 2-0 this postseason. Just as the previous two rounds of these playoffs, the Kings have arrived home for Game 3 after winning the first two games on the road. So far, securing a third victory has been more difficult than earning any of the first two. The Vancouver Canucks played their best game of the opening-round series before losing, 1-0, when the Kings produced on their only decent scoring chance (Vancouver came back to win Game 4 before losing in five). In the second round against the Blues, the Kings didn't put away St. Louis in Game 3 until a third-period goal by Drew Doughty.
3. Making it look easy – The last time the Kings had back-to-back shutout victories in the playoffs was May 2001. Of course, back in October Kings goalie Jonathan Quick strung together a franchise-record three straight shutouts, so scoreless streaks are nothing new to him. The Kings figure to lean on Quick a littler heavier as this series winds down, especially since Coyotes netminder Mike Smith figures to be at his best after allowing seven goals in the first two games. Many expected this series to be a showdown of goalies, but so far it hasn’t been close.
4. The best retaliation – The Kings accomplished something in Game 2 they haven’t done since Game 1 of the opening-round series against the Canucks. They scored two power-play goals. If the Kings continue to dominate in 5-on-5 play and Quick remains a brick wall, you can expect the frustration level to rise and the Coyotes to begin their cheap shots. The Kings have done a good job, for the most part, of not engaging Phoenix in its after-the-whistle tactics. Now the Kings just need to keep making the Coyotes pay when they go on the power play.
5. Man down – The Coyotes will be without one of their key offensive players, center Martin Hanzal, who was suspended for this game after his violent boarding penalty on Dustin Brown in the third period of Game 2. The Kings have dealt with standout players on the opposing team coming and going throughout these playoffs and, quite frankly, they really haven’t paid much attention. Hanzal’s absence will be noticed a lot more by Phoenix, which is already having trouble manufacturing offense. Their top lines are looking even more like a three-legged stool now.