Kings continue to rule the road as Coyotes fail to show up in Game 1
The Kings earned their sixth straight playoff road victory, one shy of the record
Los Angeles set the pace with physical play while Phoenix was curiously absent
The 4-2 score was misleading as L.A. dominated to outshoot Phoenix 48-27
Jonathan Quick carried more than his share of the load to help the Los Angeles Kings advance to the Western Conference Final.
Sunday night, his teammates returned the favor.
Quick took an evening off from Conn Smythe contention, allowing a pair of potentially deflating goals, but the Kings supported him with their best effort of the postseason in a convincing 4-2 Game 1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes. It was the team's sixth straight road victory, one short of the NHL record.
"He has bailed us out all season, and a few times in the playoffs, too," Anze Kopitar said. "I don't think anybody was concerned or worried about it. We just looked at each other and said, `Maybe we should win this one for him.'''
Kopitar and Dustin Brown led the way, as they have throughout the postseason. Coming out of the gates fast and physical, they got the forecheck rolling early, setting the Coyotes back on their heels, grabbing themselves a seat in Mike Smith's kitchen and rolling up the shots in bunches. Fittingly, it was Kopitar who opened the scoring just 3:53 in, using Oliver Ekman-Larsson as a screen for a slick backhand that beat Smith high.
"It was huge," he told reporters. "Every time you come out of the gates strong and you score the first goal, it seems like the game gets a little bit easier. I thought the first period was pretty good. We were putting everything on net. It was part of the game plan."
Safe to say Phoenix's reply wasn't.
With the shot clock reading 13-3, the Coyotes drew even on a shocking 98-foot blast from Derek Morris that somehow caught Quick napping. He might have misread Morris' head-down stance as a prelude to a dump into the corner, or he might have been rusty from a quiet start and nearly a week between games. Either way, the shot fluttered over his outstretched pad and Phoenix was able to escape the first period tied 1-1.
That they were in line to steal another game in which they were being widely outplayed should have given the Coyotes a bounce entering the second. Instead the Kings reestablished their dominance with their physicality and then their lead when Trevor Lewis swiped the puck from David Schlemko at the L.A. blueline and fed Mike Richards, who joined Dwight King on a two-on-one. Richards bounced a soft shot off Smith's right pad, leaving an easy rebound for King to shovel home at the 8:02 mark.
The shot disparity continued to mount until Quick's second miscue allowed the Coyotes to again tie the game late in the period. The goaler moved behind the net to corral a Doan dump in, but was caught out of position as Antoine Vermette skated by him, stripped the puck from Drew Doughty and moved it back to Doan, who found Mikkel Boedker alone in front for an easy tap-in.
Again, an opportunity for Phoenix to build some momentum. And again, it was the Kings that proved they wanted it more.
They righted the ship just 2:11 into the third when Slava Voynov, who struggled through the first two periods, found Brown with a pass as he was breaking free 60 feet away. The captain muscled past a defender and fooled Smith with a harmless looking wrister.
"The playoffs has been something for him," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said of Brown. "He's taken the next step. Right now he's a playoff-type player because of the way you have to play, the intensity, the controlled emotion."
King closed the books with his second goal of the game into the empty net at 19:12. It was L.A.'s 48th shot of the night -- a season high and a far better indication of their dominance than a score that was wildly flattering to the home side.
The Coyotes have made a habit this spring of stealing games in which they've been outplayed, but this would have been robbery on a Ronnie Biggs scale. This wasn't a case of Phoenix laying back, taking the Kings' best shot and waiting to create something off the counter-attack. This was a team that looked as though it was caught off guard by the intensity of the third round.
"As the playoffs go on, the bar gets higher and higher," said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett. "Some guys rise with the bar. We didn't have enough guys raising to the bar tonight. I thought their whole team was better than our team. We got beat in every facet of the game.
"I felt like our execution was so poor...I bet there were between 25-30 shots attempted where we had the puck on our stick, and they ended up with a shot on net."
That estimate might have been on the shy side. Phoenix had little response to the puck hunger of the Kings. And they had no answer to their speed.
If there was a loose puck, a white sweater got to it first. If a Coyote controlled it, there were two, sometimes three Kings swarming him, cutting off his options and forcing a turnover. The Coyotes didn't just lack the time to make a play, they were prevented from even considering their options.
"I don't think there ever was a time when we got our game going," said Doan, who had a game-high seven hits and was one of the few locals who appeared to recognize that he was playing in the conference finals. "They played better than us in all different areas. They came at us hard and pretty much controlled most of the game."
Smith put on another remarkable display, quelling 44 of the 47 shots he faced, including a couple of scintillating glove stops on Willie Mitchell in the third period to keep hope alive as the Kings threatened to pull away.
His effort might have been counterproductive. In fact, Smith would have been better off letting in six or eight or 10. Maybe that would have been the ammonia capsule his teammates need to have snapped under their noses.
The Coyotes weren't ready for this game. Outside of Doan, no one matched Smith's competitive level. The first line of Martin Hanzal, Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata were noticeable only as they scrambled around their own zone trying to avoid being flattened. Ekman-Larsson, so good in the first two rounds, crumbled under the relentless assault. He was targeted all night and ended up minus-3.
It's not just that Phoenix's best players have to be better. First they have to show up for Game 2.
Odds are that Quick will. And if they couldn't take advantage of him on a night like this...