One of the great sports weekends in Los Angeles history could actually reach its apex tomorrow afternoon when the Los Angeles Kings will try to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for only the second time ever.
All that stands in their way is a proud Phoenix Coyotes club that does not want to be swept out of the Conference Finals in embarrassing fashion.
Truth be told, the traffic in front of Staples Center at about the time the puck will drop might pose more of a challenge to the Kings than the Coyotes will.
That does not mean the Coyotes are a bad team, or that they are playing badly. It just means the Kings are playing at a level rarely seen in the NHL playoffs.
It is startling to see what the No. 8 seeded Kings have accomplished this post season.
First, they dispatched the defending Western Conference champion, and No. 1 seed, Vancouver Canucks in five games.
They then actually got better by sending the second-seeded St. Louis Blues packing in a four-game sweep.
Now they stand ready to sweep away the No. 3 seeded Coyotes.
And the number of people who think the Coyotes can steal just one win in this series has dwindled down to next to nothing.
The playoff transformation of the Kings has been a complete shock to the Western Conference, even if it could be argued that the talent was there the whole time.
What makes the Kings so good is that they have gelled into a complete team here in these playoffs.
They were not talking about the Kings.
But the Kings have turned out to be one of the deepest teams in the playoffs so far and, in so doing, they have become nearly impossible to defend.
If you are the Coyotes, where do you put your emphasis on defense?
Anze Kopitar has scored two goals in this series, Jeff Carter has a hat trick and Dustin Brown has been an absolute monster in the playoffs with seven goals, including one in this series.
Then there is Dwight King, who has come out of nowhere to nearly eliminate the Coyotes single-handedly. King has three goals in this series alone—and his line is the King's third line. In fact, the line of King, Trevor Lewis and Jarret Stoll are a major reason the Coyotes are in this 0-3 hole they find themselves in.
All that and neither Mike Richards or Dustin Penner have truly announced their presence in this series.
Offensively, the Kings are playing far better than anyone still alive in the NHL playoffs.
Defensively, they are playing extremely well also.
No, they are not quite the shot blocking machines that the Washington Capitals were, or that the New York Rangers still are—although Willie Mitchell has been blocking shots as effectively as anyone.
But they are not giving up much. The Coyotes are averaging 23 shots on goal in this series, which wouldn't be bad—if the Kings weren't averaging 39 shots on goal themselves.
The Kings are also playing tough, physical playoff hockey, matching the Coyotes hit for hit. They are not letting shots get through to Jonathon Quick. The Kings defenders sticks are very active.
Speaking of Quick, when shots do get through, the Kings goalie is not giving an inch. Yes, he has given up a few soft goals in this series. But when the Kings have needed him to rise to the task, Quick has been there time and again.
All of this certainly seems to indicate that Kings fans should have their brooms on hand for the second series in a row.
One has to wonder what, if anything the Coyotes can do to forestall the inevitable.
Mike Smith has not been playing badly. He is the only reason the Coyotes were even in Game 3.
But the Kings are playing so aggressively, and passing with such pin point accuracy, that any lead the Coyotes get, and they have only led once in this series, is very short lived. As good as Smith is, he has just been under constant attack for three games now.
The Coyotes must get a two goal lead on the Kings if they want to force a fifth game back in the desert. One goal leads against the Kings have not been safe at all the entire playoffs.
They must figure out a way to, if not out shoot the Kings, at least not get out shot by nearly 16 in Game 4. There is no way the Coyotes win Game 4 if that trend continues.
The Coyotes have defied the odds all season. One gets the feeling like they will go down swinging.
And the Kings, historically anyway, are not that good when they play day games, as they went 0-3 in day games in the regular season.
Of course, they did cap a sweep of the Blues in a day game two weeks ago.
Unfortunately, that whole "day-game" angle might be the best the Coyotes have going for them—and that is obviously not much to go on at all.
The Kings are playing at a different level entirely. Maybe the eventual Eastern Conference champion can slow them down some, but probably not.
The Coyotes will not go down without a fight but Jonathon Quick will get his second shutout of the series as the Kings complete the sweep with a 2-0 win.
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