Wednesday, May 23, 2012 @ 1:38pm
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It has been nearly two decades, but the Los Angeles Kings are back in the Stanley Cup Final.
Dustin Penner scored at 17:42 of overtime Tuesday to give the Kings a 4-3 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes, completing a five-game triumph in the Western Conference Finals and putting them into the Final for the first time since 1993.
Penner collected the puck in the middle of the ice and sent it to Jeff Carter, who skated into the right circle for a shot that Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith turned aside. The rebound caromed into the slot, and Penner was there to lift it into the top of the net past a lunging Smith.
"It is pretty exciting," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "There are a few guys in here that have been there and had the opportunity, but a lot of guys haven’t. It is what you play for."
Added defenseman Drew Doughty: "I don’t even know what to say. We’re just so happy in here. I’m so excited, but at the same time we’re going to celebrate tonight and today and enjoy it. Tomorrow, we’re right back at it and we’re in the Stanley Cup [Final]. That’s what we’ve dreamt of our whole lives and what we’ve worked for [since the] summer."
The series-winning goal came on the Kings' 51st shot at Smith. Jonathan Quick made 38 saves as the Kings won for the 12th time in 14 postseason games this spring. They also set a playoff record by winning their 10th consecutive road game in the postseason, and another by going 8-0 on the road so far this spring.
Los Angeles became only the second team to knock off the top three seeds in the conference since the League switched to this playoff format. The other was Calgary in 2004. Kings coach Darryl Sutter was behind the bench for that Flames team as well.
"I'm proud of the players. That's the biggest thing for me," Sutter said. "Hell of an accomplishment for the players. That's what it's about. They're the guys that sweat and bleed. That's what it's about. I know from being a player. I'm proud of them guys."
The Kings are back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993, when Wayne Gretzky was their captain and Barry Melrose was their coach. Los Angeles lost that Final in five games to Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens. The Kings won Game 1, but lost the next three in overtime before Montreal closed out the series.
Now the Kings will try again to capture the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. They will begin the Final in either New York or Newark, N.J., and Game 1 is set for May 30. The Rangers and Devils play Game 5 in the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday in New York.
"Things have come together at the right time for us," Brown said. "It is one of those things where we are getting contributions from everyone. We’ve had different heroes on different nights, and that goes a long way. It has a snowball effect, and you don’t have to rely on the same guys each and every night."
Phoenix reached the conference finals for the first time in franchise history in a season when few expected the Coyotes to return to the postseason after two straight first-round exits and the loss of free-agent goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. The Coyotes not only returned to the playoffs but captured a division title for the first time in franchise history.
"Ultimately I think our players should look back and feel good about a lot of the things that they accomplished this year," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "We have a lot of young players that this experience has been unbelievable for. Players like [Mikkel] Boedker, [Oliver] Ekman-Larsson, that this will help them grow, continue to strengthen our organization. I think we all recognize what Mike Smith has done for this organization this year, giving us real stability at that position. The frustration will go away and the building of a new team for next year will start very soon.
"You know, I just think these guys here should be really -- I think the amount that this team gave to get us to this spot I don't think should be taken lightly or forgotten easily. This is an incredible group. How hard they worked to get here should be well-recognized."
Added captain Shane Doan: "You appreciate [the run], but it doesn't feel any better than getting knocked out in the first round. It doesn't feel any better right now. Maybe in the future, you'll appreciate it, but right now you don't."
The Coyotes had two great chances to win this contest -- a 5-on-3 in the third period and a power play in overtime -- but the Kings’ penalty-killers were up to the task. Seconds before Penner’s goal, Brown nailedMichal Rozsival with an open-ice hit near the Los Angeles blue line an instant after an offside call; the hit knocked the veteran Phoenix defenseman from the game and incensed the Coyotes players when no penalty was called.
"I haven’t seen really seen a highlight of it," Brown said. "Rozsival is cutting to the middle, and I cut across and made contact. Obviously they thought it was kneeing. It happened at high [speed], but I thought I got him with my shoulder, or my whole left side made contact with his right side from toe to shoulder."
There hadn’t been a period with more than two goals during the first 13 of this series, but there was an outbreak of offense in middle period Tuesday. Los Angeles controlled the play for long stretches and attempted a whopping 36 shots in the period, putting 20 on net. But Phoenix was opportunistic, and both teams ended up with a pair of goals.
Marc-Antoine Pouliot scored his first career playoff goal at 6:23 of the second to put Phoenix ahead 2-1. Pouliot didn’t score in 13 regular-season contests for the Coyotes this season, and hadn’t scored an NHL goal since April 2, 2010, when he played for Edmonton.
Doughty tied it at 11:06. He received a pass from Colin Fraser at the right point and drifted towards the top of the offensive zone before firing a wrist shot through traffic that found the back of the net. It was his second goal of the postseason, and his 10 points are one shy of New York’s Dan Girardi for the League lead among defensemen.
"I think my game this whole playoffs has been really good," Doughty said. "I think I’m back to that guy I know I can be. I want to continue to be that guy. I think for us to win the Stanley Cup, I have to be the best defenseman on the ice every night. I’m going to make sure I’m doing that."
Mike Richards gave Los Angeles its first lead of the night a little more than two minutes later. Richards scored on the rebound of Penner's backhand attempt at 13:43 for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
Just when it appeared the Kings might take complete control, the Coyotes struck again to knot the score at three. Defenseman Keith Yandle scored his first goal of the postseason at 16:23 by skating to the right post and redirecting a centering feed from Taylor Pyatt along the left wall with his shin.
The Coyotes dominated the opening 10 minutes of the game and grabbed a 1-0 lead that could have been more. Martin Hanzal one-timed a feed from the slot with Taylor Pyatt in front providing a screen. Hanzal's power-play shot went off Pyatt and past Quick at 4:20 for his fourth goal of the postseason.
The Coyotes had seven of the first eight shots, and had another power play when the Kings were pinched for too many men at 10:28. But instead of maintaining the momentum, Phoenix gave up a shorthanded goal.
Smith’s puckhandling has been a weapon all season for the Coyotes, but he iced the puck with his team on the power play and paid the price. Anze Kopitar won the offensive-zone faceoff, and after a Brown attempt was blocked, Kopitar tipped a point shot from Doughty past Smith at 11:13.
Kopitar now has six goals in the postseason, and Brown extended his team-leading point total to 16 -- one behind Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux for tops in the League. The shorthanded goal was the Kings' fifth of the playoffs; the other 15 teams have combined for a total of six.
The Coyotes had a great chance to grab the lead early in the third period. Jarrett Stoll and Matt Greenewere sent to the penalty box 19 seconds apart, giving Phoenix a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage. Quick made four saves before Hanzal knocked Kopitar to the ice when he was trying to cover the left point, was called for interference and the Kings killed off the ensuing 4-on-3 to escape with the score still tied.
The Kings can put their feet up and watch the Rangers and Devils battle it out for the other berth in the Final -- they'll have a week off before Game 1. But come early June, there will be Final games in the city that's seen plenty of titles won by baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers and the NBA Los Angeles Lakers. The Kings will have a chance to join that group of championship winners.
"We'll probably have to get a bigger bandwagon," Penner said. "It's great for the city, great for hockey especially in Southern California. I think we have a pretty rabid fan base. I think you'll see more of that now."
Who was Hockey Manitoba's top team of 2012-13?
Number of votes: 49