Western Conference final
Game 4 (Kings lead series, 3-0)
Kings vs. Phoenix Coyotes at Staples Center, noon
Five storylines to track:
1. Record pace – This isn’t just an L.A. thing anymore. The Kings have gone international. Not just because the world-class Amgen Tour of Southern California bike race will come skidding to a halt outside Staples Center as hockey fans are pouring in, but because no one has seen anything like the playoff run the King have strung together. They’ve won eight straight playoff games and 11 of 12 overall, leaving them one win shy of the Stanley Cup finals. Since the first round of the playoffs was stretched to best-of-seven in the 1987 season, no team has reached the finals in less than 14 games. The Kings would become the first if they can wrap up the sweep against the Coyotes.
2. Not as hot – The only major professional sports team that’s hotter than the Kings right now is the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA, who have won 17 consecutive games, including all seven in the playoffs. Interestingly enough, the Spurs are scheduled to play inside Staples Center later Sunday night, when they’ll try to finish a second-round sweep against the Los Angeles Clippers. Like the Kings, the Spurs got hot in the weeks leading up to the playoffs and built on that momentum. Unlike the Kings, the Spurs have won multiple championships.
3. Hot n’ cold – Special teams continue to be a mixed bag for the Kings. They’ve scored just six power-play goals in 64 man-advantage situations in the playoffs, well below their dismal regular-season average. On the positive side, they haven’t allowed a power-play goal since Game 5 of the opening-round series against the Vancouver Canucks. They’ve allowed just three power-play goals in all. What's more impressive, they’ve scored four shorthanded goals to put them at plus-1 on the penalty kill.
4. Fraser returns – After missing Games 2 and 3 for a family matter, it appears Colin Fraser will return to the lineup. Fraser, who has been a fixture on the fourth line since returning from injury last fall, practiced with the team Saturday. It should be interesting who’s the odd man out. Kyle Clifford had replaced Fraser the last two games, but Clifford was also a regular fourth liner before suffering a concussion in the first game of the playoffs, causing him to miss the next nine. Brad Richardson and rookie Jordan Nolan would be the other likely options.
5. Hanzal returns – The arrival of Game 4 means the return of Phoenix center Martin Hanzal. He was suspended for Game 3 for his boarding penalty on Dustin Brown in Game 2. Hanzal will certainly add another dimension to the Coyotes’ forward group, but the Kings have seen top players come and go for Vancouver and St. Louis as well, and it hasn’t changed their mindset. They wait for coach Darryl Sutter to send them over the wall and play against whomever's on the ice at time. They simply focus on their role and let everything else take care of itself.