Third line comes to rescue as Kings move within one win of Cup finals
What we learned in Los Angeles' economical 2-1 win over Phoenix in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals:
And yet they come away with another win, their eighth in a row, to move within one game of a berth in the Stanley Cup finals.
It's something different every night with this team. Even at their worst -- and this was clearly their least consistent effort of the playoffs -- someone answers the call. Tonight, it was an heroic effort from the third line of Jarret Stoll, Trevor Lewis and Dwight King that eventually turned the tide. Stoll offered up what might have been the game of his career, full of grim determination in all three zones. He had live legs from the start, driving the net to launch three shots, and blocked at least as many from getting to Quick. He was brutal in the circle (winning only four of 15 draws), but always found a way to win back possession with his tenacious checking. No surprise it was his steal off the stick of rookie Michael Stone in the slot that led to King's winner early in the third.
When a guy like King -- a rookie better known for his industriousness than his soft hands -- has four goals, then you've got the kind of scoring depth that wins a series.
They got the cycle going early, matching the speed and puck hunger that L.A. brought to Jobing.com Arena. They were creative, exploiting gaps that uncharacteristically opened with stretch passes that got them behind the defense. And they got pucks toward the net early, landing enough that they actually outshot the Kings 11-8 in the opening frame (the first time they'd outshot anyone in 11 periods).
But the numbers were misleading. While the Kings were generating premium chances -- Slava Voynov's one-timer from the high slot, Stoll's partial break down the right side -- Phoenix settled for the long range or bad angle shots that got Jonathan Quick's legs moving but did little to test him.
And that's been the Coyotes' biggest problem in a series where they've now scored just three times, and one of those was a center-ice fluke. They're not getting to the front of the net, either through lack of execution or will, which is where they have to be to challenge the NHL's hottest goaltender. That's a losing formula.
The Coyotes were better tonight. In fact, they've been a little bit better every game...but that's three now where they've slowly been battered into submission by a faster, smarter, harder-working opponent. They haven't given any reason to believe they won't be put down for good on Sunday afternoon.
It didn't happen. And it's making Dave Tippett crazy.
There was Doan, taking a retaliatory elbowing call in the first. Then Derek Morris with a senseless roughing penalty earned after the whistle in the second. Michal Rozsival should have been called for applying the lumber to Justin Williams' jaw. Finally, Oliver Ekman-Larsson responded with a cross-check after Dustin Brown laid a hard but clean hit on him in the third.
Tippett's said it the whole series. They have to stay out of the box. But again, they just couldn't turn the other cheek.
No surprise that Los Angeles' feeble power play failed to capitalize. You want to shove a stick in the Kings' spokes? Give 'em the man advantage. They generated better scoring chances while Alec Martinez was in the box for their only short-handed situation of the night.
But that's hardly the point. The Coyotes not only lost their focus, they lost their chance to build any momentum. And it cost them.
Hanzal can be a difference maker. His big body can be a load down low if he can battle his way into the crease. Ekman-Larsson needs to slow down and let the game come to him. He's pressing, and that's cost him the timing that made him a 13-goal scorer during the regular season. The rookie defender was held shotless again tonight, and has put just one on net in his last eight games. He has to be the guy directing the puck toward Quick's pillows for tips and rebounds.
Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata -- the team's leading point and goal getters, respectively -- have both gone six games now without a point. Neither were noticeable tonight until Vrbata's last-minute slashing penalty killed any hope of a comeback. It wouldn't be surprising to learn that he's hurt. He's not battling effectively in the corners and when he takes a shot, there's not much on it. Still, excuses are for summer time, and if the Coyotes would like to put that off for a few more days, their stars need to do something other than fill a roster spot.