Sunday, May 13, 2012
Kings: Pair of Cinderellas begin same dance
By Dan Arritt
Western Conference finals
Kings vs. Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena, 5 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. The Unpredictables: If there’s anyone out there who predicted this conference final back in September, or even February, they might want to move to Las Vegas for a while. The Kings have overcome the preseason holdout of a key player, a mid-December coaching change and a three-month scoring slump to reach their second conference final in the franchise’s 45-year history. Phoenix's debut in its first conference championship was even harder to envision. The Coyotes traded away last season’s No. 1 goalie in the offseason, played in front of a half-full arena for much of the season and were still outside the top eight in the West with five games remaining in the regular season. That's why they play the playoff games, folks.
2. Key factor: The comparisons have been made and the opinions shared. Which team has the better goalie? Who is stronger on the power play? How many games will the series last? Those are just a few of the questions that figure to be asked and answered as the week rolls along. When it comes to determining a winner, Kings captain Dustin Brown said it will likely come down to just one factor: “This time of year, I think it’s more about who really wants it more.”
3. Masked men: Undoubtedly, the matchup between Kings goalkeeper Jonathan Quick and Coyotes netminder Mike Smith will get the most attention. Quick comes into the series with the No. 1 save percentage in these playoffs at .949, while Smith is a tick behind at .948. Quick has struggled against the Coyotes in his career, but was better this season, posting a 3-1-2 record. Smith is 8-2-1 in his career against L.A., including 3-1-1 this season. The team that scores two goals first could be in good shape for a win.
4. Hit man: Brown has been the best offensive player for the Kings during these playoffs, and has been the most productive against the Coyotes this season, with three goals and two assists. There's another aspect of Brown the Coyotes need to be very concerned about: his ability to lay a good hit on just about anyone, just about anywhere. Vancouver learned the hard way when he laid out Henrik Sedin in Game 3 of their first-round series. The Coyotes were given a reminder in February, when Brown drilled defenseman Rostislav Klesla in open ice, knocking him out for three weeks with an upper-body injury.
5. Missing D-man: The Coyotes will be without another key defenseman, Adrian Aucoin, who suffered an undisclosed injury in the series-clinching win against the Predators in the last round and has been ruled out of Game 1. He’ll be replaced by David Schlemko. Aucoin, 38, has played in 60 career playoff games but never a conference final. Aucoin has four goals and 12 assists in 47 career games against the Kings. Schlemko, meanwhile, has appeared in seven playoff games in his career, including three this postseason. He has two assists in seven career games against the Kings.