3) Coyotes vs. 8) Kings
How they got here…
WCQ: Beat (6) Blackhawks in 6
WCS: Beat (4) Predators in 5
WCQ: Beat (1) Canucks in 5
WCS: Beat (2) Blues in 4
Previous Playoff Meetings…
Tale of the Tape…
Edge: Kings… Anze Kopitar. Dustin Brown. Mike Richards. Do I need to keep going?
Edge: Coyotes… L.A.’s Drew Doughty is having a great playoff and both teams are pretty even otherwise, but I’ll give the slight edge to the Coyotes’ overall.
Edge: Even… It’s a wash. Mike Smith and Jonathan Quick are 1-2 in the Conn Smythe race right now.
Edge: Even… Phoenix’s power play is a tad better numbers-wise, but Los Angeles can score shorthanded.
Edge: Even… Both Dave Tippett and Darryl Sutter have pushed all the right buttons this postseason.
Edge: Even… As teams, this is uncharted territory. There are individuals on each team that have gotten to this point in their careers.
Edge: Even… No major injuries for either side.
Keys to the Series…
1. Stay to the winning formula… Tippett always says that he is more worried about his own team’s play than the opponent’s. And when the Coyotes don’t waver from their game plan and play their brand of hockey, they are really tough to beat. That’s what the Coyotes will have to do in this series against a physical Kings team that is on a roll. Play with the lead, out-work the Kings and get timely goal-scoring – if the Coyotes do those things (which they’ve done all postseason), their feel-good story will continue.
2. Smith out-play Quick… Not taking anything away from Quick, but Smith has been more valuable to his team in these playoffs. Smith has played in six overtime games (won four of them) and nine one-goal games. He’s been the Coyotes’ best player through two rounds and that can’t change now. Smith, who sports an 8-2-1 career record against Los Angeles, will need to out-play his counterpart in this series. It can’t be the other way around.
1. Continued success away from home… The biggest reason why the Kings made quick work of the Canucks and Blues was because of their success on the road. The Kings are a perfect 5-0 away from home this postseason, making it look a lot easier than it should be. As the No. 8-seed, they’ll be starting on the road once again in Phoenix. If the Kings can continue to play lights-out hockey in the desert, they could cruise to the Stanley Cup final.
2. Create traffic, rebounds… Something that the Blackhawks and Predators failed to do against Phoenix was get (a) much traffic and (b) many second-chance opportunities. They both had zone time, but the Coyotes limited the scoring chances. Los Angeles has to find a way to break through down low and get traffic in front of Smith. Also, they must pounce on rebounds and create havoc in the offensive zone.
Why the Coyotes will win…
As mentioned above, when the Coyotes stick to their game they are very hard to beat in a seven-game series. Smith has been the best player in these playoffs; so if he doesn’t falter that will make life difficult on the Kings. Almost under the radar, Shane Doan has been stellar on both sides of the puck. Also, youngsters Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson have been really good defensively and are a big reason why the Coyotes have been so hard to score on. But more than that, Tippett’s system has been so effective lately that it’s hard to see them losing this series (despite the pedestrian offensive attack) if that continues.
Why the Kings will win…
The Kings are a little bit of a different animal than what the Coyotes have seen thus far. They have a solid mix of size, depth and skill up front; the Predators and Blackhawks had two of those but not all three. That could play in the Kings’ favor. One thing that is going against the Kings is that only one No. 8-seed has ever advanced to the Cup final. However, this isn’t your normal No. 8-seed. The Kings, who underachieved for most of the season, have all the ingredients to win a Stanley Cup despite their seeding. I like the Kings in this series if Mike Richards and Anze Kopitar can both be difference-makers.
I honestly don’t know who to pick in this series. These Pacific Division foes are evenly matched and split their season series. They both stormed through the first two rounds without much of a hitch. This should be a tightly-contested series with a lot of good goaltending, bad blood and overtimes. The only thing there won’t be a lot of is goals, but that’s okay. It's hard to pick against either team, but I’ll say the Coyotes’ fairytale story has another chapter to it.
Prediction: Coyotes in 7
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