Between Los Angeles and Phoenix, it doesn’t take much to spark emotion.
Take the opening period of their game Tuesday night in Jobing.com Arena.
Though no goal was scored during the first 20 minutes of play, referees Dean Morton and Brad Watson called 10 penalties—and several more could have been cited. Plus, there was plenty of aggressive play from both teams.
After former Coyote Daniel Carcillo and Phoenix’s Kyle Chipchura were whistled for fighting less than four minutes into the second period, there was no suspension of forceful play.
As rivals in the NHL’s Pacific Division, the Kings and Coyotes play each other five times this season. And there’s enough passion and emotion to keep the engine of this burgeoning rivalry burning brightly.
“This was jump-started in the playoffs a few years ago,” said Kings center Anze
Kopitar. “The games remain physical, and (you) might say there’s a level of feistiness. Phoenix is a good opponent, and these are the games you want to play.”
Kopitar’s reference dates two years back, when the Kings defeated the Coyotes in the Western Conference finals. In that round, the Kings jumped out to a 3-0 series lead and eventually defeated Phoenix 4-3 in overtime in Game 5. They went on to defeat the New Jersey Devils in six games to win the Stanley Cup.
Yet, Game 5 was memorable.
Just before the winning goal, Kings’ captain Dustin Brown leveled Phoenix defenseman Michal Rozsival at the blue line, and fans in Jobing.com Arena thought there should have been a penalty. Instead, Dustin Penner scored on goalie Mike Smith at 17:42 into the overtime and the Kings were on their way to the Stanley Cup finals.
The bitter feeling remains with the Coyotes, and a contest with Los Angeles resembles a heavyweight championship fight rather than just a hockey game.
“Rivalries are built through the playoffs,” said Phoenix coach Dave Tippett. “Teams become very familiar with one another, and that’s where we are with L.A.”
Besides the emotion, Phoenix and Los Angeles are similar. Each team features strong goaltending, an aggressive defense and solid forwards. Speed is another common factor, and the Kings and Coyotes are usually the aggressors.
“We tend to have low-scoring games with them and hard forechecking,” said Brown. “Details make the difference, and Phoenix plays a tough, physical style. We need to do the little things right and match them.”
Still, the rivalry between the Kings and Coyotes appears to gain momentum.
“There used to be a real hatred,” Brown added. “That’s declined over the past few years and seems to have simmered down. I can tell you though, it’s still there.”
Ditto from the Coyotes.
“(Los Angeles) gets under our skin,” said Phoenix defenseman Derek Morris. “Maybe it’s frustration, I’m not sure. They are in our division, and we do play them five times. We just have to be disciplined and play a strong, defensive game.”
To answer the latest bell, the Coyotes collectively raised their work ethic level and skated off with an impressive 3-1 victory over the Kings Tuesday night.
This latest round Tuesday night went to Phoenix. This war of titans continues Jan. 28 at Jobing.com Arena.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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