Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2012 [Print without images]

Tuesday, June 12, 2012
The West was the best, of course

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

1. Game 6, Stanley Cup finals, Devils vs. Kings: Trevor Lewis scores into an empty net with 3:45 remaining in the third period, giving the home team a 5-1 lead, players on the Kings' bench launching themselves in the air and hugging each other in celebration. Game, set, match. They knew they were Stanley Cup champions right then and there.

2. Game 3, Stanley Cup finals, Devils vs. Kings: The Kings are down two men for 59 seconds with the game still scoreless at Staples Center. A Devils goal here and we might have a totally different series. Instead, Jarret Stoll, Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene put on a penalty-killing clinic, thwarting New Jersey sniper Ilya Kovalchuk over and over again, Greene blocking shot after shot while the crowd stood on its feet. The Kings killed the 5-on-3 and eventually romped to a 4-0 victory to go ahead 3-0 in the series. That was the moment that clinched the Cup. "I thought that was a big momentum swing," veteran Kings blueliner Rob Scuderi said after Game 3. "The guys did a fantastic job. Once we got through it, we felt a sense of confidence." Added fellow blueliner Drew Doughty: "That lifted all our spirits on the bench. I thought from then on out we were a better team."

3. Game 6, conference quarterfinals, Coyotes vs. Blackhawks: If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes that night at United Center, I might not have believed it. The shots were 28-8 through 40 minutes for the Blackhawks. The score was 1-0 Phoenix. Mike Smith was standing on his head, as he had all series long, limiting the powerful Blackhawks offense to 12 goals over six games. He made 39 saves in that Game 6, series-clinching win, one of the best goaltending performances in a long time. "He was the star of the show tonight and in this series," Coyotes GM Don Maloney told ESPN.com that night. "I thought he willed us into the playoffs and he willed us to this win in the first round."

4. Game 5, conference finals, Coyotes vs. Kings: Kings captain Dustin Brown, in overtime, crushes Coyotes blueliner Michal Rozsival with a borderline-clean knee-on-knee hit that leaves the Phoenix player lying on the ice in obvious pain. The Coyotes are incensed there is no penalty on the play. On the next shift, with the Phoenix bench still up in arms, Kings winger Dustin Penner scores to end the game and the series. What ensues is a wild, postgame reaction from the Coyotes, captain Shane Doan yelling at the refs, goalie Mike Smith throwing his stick in the vicinity of an official, Michal Handzus gesturing near a ref, and of course postgame comments that raised the ire of the league. You had to feel for the Coyotes because it has a gut-wrenching way to lose. And Brown probably should have gotten two minutes for that hit. But the Coyotes players went too far in their anger. League executive vice president Colin Campbell interviewed Doan, Handzus, Smith and Keith Yandle in separate phone calls a week later, making it clear that their actions and words were not acceptable. Doan, classy as always, apologized to Campbell. Still, it was a moment for those of us at Jobing.com Arena that night that won't soon be forgotten.

5. Game 1, conference quarterfinals, Canucks vs. Kings: The Kings open their playoffs with a 4-2 win over the Canucks at Rogers Arena. That was the moment as far as Kings players are concerned. That was the eureka moment for the Kings when it became clear what they could achieve. "I think it was right after that first playoff game," star blueliner Drew Doughty said May 6 after completing a four-game sweep of St. Louis. "It's only one game but it was against the top team in the league for the last two years. We played great against them that first game and ever since that point, we knew we had a great team in here. We knew we could finally score goals and we knew our defense is probably one of the best in the league. It was great to finally get that confidence under our belts because now it's really showing out there."