NHL Playoffs 2012: Predicting an Unexpeted Western Conference Final

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NHL Playoffs 2012: Predicting an Unexpeted Western Conference Final
Harry How/Getty Images
The Kings and the Coyotes are set to play for a trip to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.

The Los Angeles Kings once made an appearance in a Conference Championship series (then called the Campbell Conference) in 1992.  Wayne Gretzky and the Kings beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The original Winnipeg Jets franchise relocated to Glendale, Arizona in 1996, forming the Phoenix Coyotes.  The Coyotes failed to advance past the first round in every playoff appearance before this season since moving to the desert.

Both teams compete for a trip to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final starting next week.

The Kings beat the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks in five games and swept the second-seeded St. Louis Blues in Round 2 as the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Goaltender Jonathan Quick played nothing short of magnificent in both series.  His 1.55 goals against average and .949 save percentage trail only Vancouver's Cory Schneider's numbers for the postseason.

Team captain Dustin Brown erupted for six goals and five assists between the two series to help his team advance.  More balanced scoring aided the Kings with 15 different players scoring at least one goal.

While most of the Kings' roster lacks experience in advancing this deep into the playoffs, key players like forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and defenseman Rob Scuderi advanced past the Conference Finals before with other teams.

Scuderi played in both the 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup Finals with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The Kings hope he is able to shutdown Phoenix's top scorers in the same way he frustrated the Red Wings' Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk a few seasons ago.

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Both Richards and Carter played for the Philadelphia Flyers when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010.  Richards served as the team's captain and one of the top postseason scorers while Carter missed much of the playoffs with injury.

Expect Mike Richards' point total to increase significantly as the playoffs progress.

Mike Smith's phenomenal goaltending stole the show in both Chicago and Nashville.  His two shutouts lead the league in postseason play.

Antoine Vermette led the way offensively with five goals and nine points.  Rostislav Klesla and Keith Yandle emerged as a formidable defensive tandem in front of Smith's goaltending.

The Coyotes own home ice advantage by being the higher seed.  They won the Pacific Division and an automatic top three seed with only 97 points.  Realistically, the 'Yotes finished with the seventh highest point total in the West and only two ahead of the Kings.

The Kings already took down the conference's top two seeds and there is no reason they shouldn't be able to take down the Coyotes.

On paper, the Kings' lineup is favorable when compared to Phoenix's.  Forwards Brown, Anze Kopitar and Richards lead the way for the Kings' offense, while Vermette, team captain Shane Doan, and seasoned veteran Ray Whitney highlight the Coyotes' forwards.  The Kings have the edge offensively.

Defensively, it's much closer.  Yandle and Klesla anchor Phoenix's blue line, while offensive defenseman Drew Doughty and heavy-hitter Matt Green patrol the Kings' defensive zone, with the X-Factor being shutdown specialist Rob Scuderi.  The edge again goes to the Kings because of more balance and more game-changers.

Harry How/Getty Images
Team captain Dustin Brown and goaltender Jonathan Quick are the two biggest reasons the Kings are in the Conference Final.

Goaltending is probably the closest battle of all with both team's netminders playing tremendous in between the pipes.  Quick's numbers are slightly better, but Smith leads the postseason with two shutouts.  However, in a seven game series, Quick's the pick.

The Kings look unstoppable right now.  It took a combined nine games for the team to take down the top two seeds in their conference.  The Coyotes showed they can play some good hockey, taking down Nashville, a Cup favorite, in only five games after barely making it out of the first round.

This may prove to be Los Angeles' longest series yet as the Kings and the Coyotes split their season series, with the Kings winning three times in regulation and losing in overtime twice.  The Coyotes won one game in regulation, but neither overtime win went to a shootout.

Expect the Kings to advance to their second Stanley Cup Final in team history.  Hopefully the second time's the charm for the Cup-less Kings.

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