Not many people coming into the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs predicted the Phoenix Coyotes squaring off against the Los Angeles Kings for the right to go to the Stanley Cup Finals. Each team had to go against similar adversities along the way and both teams overcame those adversities to get where they are today.
The 3rd seeded Phoenix Coyotes came into the postseason with it’s first ever division title ever, even when the team was in Winnipeg. Led by the never aging Ray Whitney, the Coyotes came into the playoffs with a bunch of momentum and were poised for a deep run. What’s more astounding is the fact that the Coyotes since 2009 have been a team that the NHL has been trying to move. A move that would send this organization to a more “hockey loving” city. Since 2008, the Coyotes have been facing massive losses and the NHL has been covering for their expenses, however it never affected the locker room. Since the 2009 season, the Coyotes have made the playoffs every time, but before this season they were a quick one and done.
So, basically over the past 3 or so seasons, the Coyotes have been on the brink of being relocated, sold and torn apart but the team was never fazed. This season, Dave Tippet has done a wonderful job leading the team all the way to the Western Conference Finals with disciplinary hockey and strong goaltending. Mike Smith has been carrying this team on his back since day one. A player that sat most of the bench last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning during their spectacular postseason run, is now caught in the middle of this hopefully epic series. After Ilya Bryzgalov was shipped to Philadelphia, Mike Smith made most of Phoenix say Bryz who? His numbers were off the charts this year and remain constant in the postseason.
After a gut wrenching series vs the Chicago Blackhawks, who many picked to breeze by the Yotes, (cough not me) found themselves gasping for life the entire series. Overpowered by the high artillery that is Chicago, Mike Smith was easily the MVP of that series. After the first 5 games going into overtime, the Yotes came out victorious and had their eyes set on a bigger giant; the Nashville Predators. But, once again the stage was set where the Yotes could fold over and let a bigger team knock them out, but the Yotes stood their ground and cruised to a 4-1 series win over the Predators.
This postseason the Coyotes have been led offensively by Antoine Vermette, a player that came at the trade deadline from Columbus, leads the team with 9 points in the 11 postseason games. If the Coyotes want to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final, they have to be able to get to Jonathan Quick, quicker than the Kings can get to Mike Smith. Many predicted the Nashville series to be nip and tuck with low scoring games, but that was not the case because the Yotes were able to get to Pekka Rinne quick and often. That’s going to have to be the case once again.
Now, the 8th seeded Los Angeles Kings come into this series proving everyone and when I mean everyone, I mean everyone wrong. But not me. Sorry not trying to be cocky or anything but I picked them to take out both the Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues quite comfortably, and they did. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I overheard someone saying that this is the first time in the history of the NHL a #8 seed has been able to knock out the #1 and #2 seeds in a single postseason, well how about lets take out the #3 seed as well? Quite possible but they have to make sure they continue scoring.
The main issue certainly wasn’t firepower this year for the Kings, it was just the ability to score. With players like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Drew Doughty, the names just continue to jump off the page, but what was the problem? Hard to tell, but they were just not getting the puck in the net. At one point, they were averaging fewer than 2 goals a game, atrocious! But, they had a secret weapon, and his name was Jonathan Quick. Ah yes, the proud America hockey player out of Connecticut. This was the secret weapon the Kings had. The man was amazing this year, no wait amazing is an understatement. There is no statement to how important Quick was to this team, quite frankly had it not been for Quick, the Kings would have probably finished last in the Pacific Division! Want to know where the Kings were ranked in the NHL in goals per game? 29th. Want to know where the Kings were ranked in the NHL in goals allowed per game? 2nd. Jonathan Quick was their savior all year long. Los Angeles was only one of two teams to score fewer than 200 goals during this season and make the playoffs, the other team? The Florida Panthers.
So, with the Kings it’s all about scoring, because Quick can rob games for you. Like I said, it’s all about who can get rolling quicker than the other opponent, and the goaltending will be solid both ways.
I think this is going to be a nail biting series that goes the distance. Game 7 in Phoenix to see who goes to the dance. The Coyotes play well all series long, but it comes down to who has the hottest goaltender, and I believe that will be Jonathan Quick. My preseason pick to win the championship Los Angeles Kings march into the Finals and represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.