- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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LOS ANGELES -- During a quiet moment after practice Saturday, Ray Whitney shared a few thoughts away from the cameras and tape recorders.
The veteran winger for the Phoenix Coyotes not only promised his team would deliver a big-time effort for Sunday's Game 4 of the Western Conference finals to avoid being swept by the Los Angeles Kings, but he went one step further. He wanted the Kings to face a little adversity, which he didn't feel they really had in these playoffs given their 11-1 record before Sunday. Win a game or two, Whitney mused, and who knows
Well, it's going to take more than one loss for the Kings to feel any real adversity, but it certainly could get interesting now if the Coyotes make it two in a row with a Game 5 win Tuesday night in Glendale, Ariz.
The Coyotes' play at Staples Center in Games 3 and 4 was worthy of two victories, really, even though they go home with only one. Led by captain Shane Doan's two goals in Sunday's matinee, Phoenix earning a 2-0 win, the lunch-bucket Coyotes continue to endear themselves in these playoffs with the manner in which they refuse to roll over, refuse to listen to the critics, refuse to accept to be marginalized no matter what anybody thinks.
"I don't know if we like adversity, but we've had to deal with it an awful lot this season," said goalie Mike Smith, who earned his third shutout of the playoffs. "I think it's made us stronger as a team. Tonight we had nothing to lose. We had to make sure we played our best game. That would give us a chance to win. We obviously had a huge game from Doaner. It trickled down through our lineup. He was unbelievable. Every guy knew that he was going and they were going to do their part to try to force this series to Game 5."
It's one thing to lose a series, it's another to do it without playing up to one's capabilities. That was part of the message in the Coyotes' room this weekend.
"That's the best we've seen in this series, that's for sure," Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said. "We ended up getting the lead. I thought we competed a lot harder and a lot more battles. When you do those things, you give yourself a better chance to win."
The Coyotes had the most jump in their game all series. They also scored a power-play goal, the first against the Kings since the first round, ending a stretch of 30 straight kills for Los Angeles.
"I think Phoenix played really well," Kings blueliner Matt Greene said. "They played a good game and came out hard. They got a big power-play goal against us there and they got a big faceoff goal. Smith was awesome tonight. They played well and we can play better. We need to respond better than that."
It may very well all end Tuesday night in Glendale, but not without another gutsy effort like the Coyotes delivered Thursday and Sunday at Staples Center. These guys will not roll over.
This is a tight team, a group dripping in pride, and the thought of ending their surprising journey this season in a sweep at the hands of the Pacific Divisional rival Kings was making them sick.
"It would have been embarrassing to get swept," Whitney said after Sunday's game. "We got swept in the conference finals one year when I was in Carolina. It makes it look like you didn't belong there to begin with. We did not want that to happen here."
Whitney was one of the veterans who spoke up pregame in the dressing room, telling his teammates that they had nothing to lose, that getting swept was unacceptable. Derek Morris and Keith Yandle also had words for their teammates. It was a quiet and confident room, Doan said.
And on Sunday, they delivered a typical Coyotes victory circa 2012 playoffs: they were outshot 36-21 but opportunistic with the chances they got; Doan opened the scoring on the power play; and, of course, they got excellent goaltending from Smith.
"We just take that for granted that Mike is going to play like that every night," Whitney said. "Even the games that we lost, Mike has been good. We blocked shots better today and he was there when we needed him, obviously."
The Kings weren't bad at all, just a little off though. Those tape-to-tape passes from the opening three games were often in the skates on this day, and the puck just was not bouncing their way when they got chances. After eight straight playoff wins, you're going to get days like that.
"I think tonight was more about the Phoenix Coyotes playing a good game," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "They sat back and they are opportunistic and that's how they've done it all year. They've been a resilient group all year and they showed that tonight. They executed really well and that's the bottom line."
Wrapping it up in four would have been ideal for the Kings, but if there's a silver lining in a loss for the Kings it is that it will allow them to re-focus and tighten up in areas that perhaps had begun to slack a little despite an eight-win streak. Those things fly under the radar when you keep finding ways to win. A loss now will give head coach Darryl Sutter a good platform to get everyone's attention heading into Tuesday night's game.
"We are still in a good position; that's why we have to hit the reset button, refocus, and make sure we have a lot of energy for Tuesday," Kings star center Anze Kopitar said.
Just a little speed bump for the Kings or did this just get more interesting? We'll find out Tuesday.
It's going to take more than one loss for the Kings to feel any real adversity, but it certainly could get interesting now if the Coyotes make it two in a row with a Game 5 win Tuesday night, writes Pierre LeBrun.