For the third time this postseason, the Los Angeles Kings have taken a 3-0 lead in a series and threaten to pick up their second sweep of the playoffs on Sunday against the Phoenix Coyotes. They have lost just one of their twelve games and look ready to cruise their way to the Stanley Cup. It’s not just that they’re winning; they’re winning in convincing fashion.
As Ellen put it, the Kings are “definitively ass-whoopingly eye-catchingly heart-liftingly brilliant” and look like an unstoppable juggernaut. She’s right: it’s refreshing to see a team dominate like this in an era with so much emphasis on parity. The fact that they are an 8th seed slightly undercuts that point, but it also makes what they’re accomplishing so much more impressive.
But the playoffs aren’t done yet and neither is the Western Conference Final. Can the Coyotes do what the Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues were unable to do? Can the Coyotes stop the Kings?
Things don’t look promising for the Coyotes. The Coyotes have held a lead for all of 2 minutes and 7 seconds in the series and have struggled to contain the suddenly offensively capable Kings. In the regular season, the Kings were 29th in scoring, averaging just 2.29 goals-per-game. In the playoffs, the Kings are 3rd behind the Flyers and Penguins, averaging 3.08 goals-per-game.
The Kings have been dominant, out-shooting the Coyotes 116 to 70 through the first three games. Their forecheck is relentless, their aggression on the penalty kill is continually surprising, and their scoring depth has been impossible to contain.
Then there’s the Kings’ defence and goaltending. The Kings allowed just 2.07 goals against per game, 2nd in the NHL behind the Blues. They’ve only gotten better in the playoffs, allowing a minuscule 1.42 goals against per game, 1st in the postseason by a country mile. The Coyotes have managed just 3 goals in 3 games and their two top regular season scorers, Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata, have yet to record a point. Neither has their playoff leader in points, Antoine Vermette.
Still, there is one good sign: after giving up 4 goals in the first two games, the Kings allowed just 2 in game three. They also got the Kings’ shot totals down, allowing 28 shots against after giving up 48 and 40. Of course, that came at the cost of their own shot totals, as they put just 19 shots on net. When the biggest positive that I can find comes with that kind of caveat, that’s a bad sign.
Perhaps the Coyotes can learn something from the one team that has beaten the Kings in the playoffs this year – the Canucks – and build on it in order to win a few more. In game four against the Kings, the Canucks had the benefit of the emotional and practical boost of getting Daniel Sedin back in the lineup after missing 12 games with a concussion. While the Coyotes will have Martin Hanzal return from his one-game suspension, his return doesn’t really measure up.
The Canucks got a 43-save performance out of Cory Schneider, however, and the Coyotes will hope for a similar performance out of Mike Smith. Smith certainly hasn’t been the problem for the Coyotes, but they’ll need him to once again be at the top of his game on Sunday.
The powerplay will also be a key for the Coyotes. The Canucks benefited from 2 powerplay goals in their victory over the Kings. The Coyotes have yet to score a powerplay goal in the series, going 0-for-10. While the Kings’ penalty kill has seemed impregnable, the Coyotes’ powerplay hasn’t truly challenged it. So far in the postseason, the Coyotes have just 5 powerplay goals, fewest of the four teams remaining.
The Coyotes have just 7 shots on their 10 powerplays against the Kings. They received just one powerplay in game three: they didn’t get a single shot on net during the two minutes.
They’ll need to be better – much better – if they have any hope of halting the Kings. As it is, things look grim for Phoenix.