If you didn't know this was a potentially series-clinching playoff game, the Kings didn't do much early on to convince you of it.
The first 10 minutes of the game contained some of the worst hockey I have seen the Kings play this season. It was clear that they were rattled by the Game 4 loss, which was a much more of dominating performance than the 2-0 score would indicate.
The Coyotes fought back against the 3-0 series deficit with more conviction than did Vancouver or St. Louis. Even though it was just one game, it dealt a serious blow to the Kings' confidence.
It came as no surprise when a Martin Hanzal shot was redirected past Jonathan Quick less than five minutes into the game, giving the Coyotes an early 1-0 lead. The goal came off a poor clearance attempt by Mike Richards while the Coyotes were in the dying seconds of a power play.
This is what folks in the movie business call "the darkest moment."
I will admit I was shaken. I thought a blowout was imminent. I will not go as far as to say I had given up on the series or even the game, but I had never before felt so helpless as a Kings fan.
And then, as it always does after the darkest moment, dawn broke.
Halfway through the period, the Kings took a sloppy too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty, giving Phoenix another power play. Following a full ice clearance by LA, Coyotes goalie Mike Smith controlled the puck and looked up ice.
Instead of sliding the puck to one of four teammates circling back in their own zone, he fired it all the way across the rink, failing to connect with anyone and drawing a completely unnecessary icing call.
Anze Kopitar won a clean faceoff and moved towards the net, positioning himself perfectly to deflect a Drew Doughty slap shot right through Smith's legs.
And with that, the spell was broken.
It was Phoenix's turn to be rattled. They finished the power play with two consecutive offside calls and failed to record a shot on goal in their next one. The Kings ended the first period on a massive wave of momentum, erasing everything the Coyotes had done well. It felt like we should have been down 4-0, but we weren't.
As that confidence began to return to the Kings' play, they dominated the first part of the second period. They brought the shot totals back to even and kept pressure on Smith. It seemed certain that the Kings would tally the next score.
But as everyone was so quick to point out after Game 4, the Coyotes wouldn't quit.
Going completely against momentum, the Coyotes notched a second goal to take back the lead. This goal loomed much smaller than did their opening score, and the Kings responded five minutes later as Doughty needed no deflection to find the net this time.
When, just a few minutes later, Mike Richards put in the Kings third goal on a rebound off a nice play from Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner, I thought it was over. We had the lead, we had the momentum and we had the crowd silent.
But lady luck fancied Keith Yandle last night. It was a lucky bounce, and it was his knee, not his stick, that scored the equalizer. The sixth goal of the game re-energized Phoenix and their fans, and it carried the tie all the way though the third period (and many a questionable call, might I add).
After regulation, it seemed fitting that the score should be even. Phoenix had dominated the first. LA had controlled the second. And the third was a tense stalemate. Overtime seemed fair. Sudden death felt just.
The Kings came out hot on a power play, and they took the first five shots of the extra period. The Coyotes battled back and had a glorious chance about 10 minutes in. The Kings had overcommitted, and Doughty faced a two-on-one onslaught with the game on the line.
But ever the professional, he played it perfectly, completely laying out on the ice to block a low shot and taking away the passing lane with his stick. I have no doubt that a completed pass and an open net would have ended the game.
As the period neared a close, Dustin Brown laid a huge hit on Michal Rozsival, right after an offside call that had the Phoenix bench and crowd in an uproar. Now, I may be biased, but it did not appear to me to be a dirty hit.
Brown led with his shoulder and made no attempt to make contact with his knee. It was an unfortunate coincidence his knee connected with Rozsival's thigh. The referees made no penalty call, which I believe was the right call to make, and play continued.
Mike Richards won the resulting faceoff, and Slava Voynov pushed the puck up the ice to Penner. He slid a nice pass to Jeff Carter who swooped in on goal and put a shot off Smith's pad. The puck bounced up in the air, over the hand of Mike Richards and back onto the stick of Dustin "Cheesy Gordita Crunch" Penner, who buried it in the net, just out of the reach of Smith's glove.
The deed was done.
Tensions ran high, as the players met at center ice for the obligatory hand shake line, where Phoenix captain Shane Doan and Dustin Brown exchanged heated words. After the game, both Doan and Smith aired grievances about the officiating, which I agree was poor in certain instances but not lopsidedly so.
Smith also suggested a lifetime ban for Dustin Brown, which is so disgustingly ridiculous, I refuse to dignify it with a response—except to say that Mike Smith is a horrifically sore loser.
Whether you like it or not, the Kings are going to the Stanley Cup and the Coyotes are going home.
And it's all thanks to the goalies. We thank Quick for big save after big save, especially at times when another goal could have spelled a loss. And we thank Mike Smith for his timely icing penalty that left the door open, just slightly, for the Kings to climb back into the game.
Thank you Mike, couldn't have done it without you.
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