The NHL’s conference finals are well underway and it looks as if through three games of the Western Conference Finals, the LA Kings are a mortal lock to make their second Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history. Meanwhile in the Eastern Conference Finals, the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils have split the first two games of their best of seven series. The Rangers and Devils have been close all season and this playoff series could last awhile as both teams except for one period have been neck and neck. If the LA Kings clinch their playoff series versus the Phoenix Coyotes Sunday, they may have anywhere from a seven to ten day layoff depending on what the Rangers and Devils do (not that the Kings would mind, of course). Here is a recap of each Conference Finals series so far:
Western Conference Final (LA leads best of seven series 3-0):
Game 1: LA Kings 4 Phoenix 2: Dwight King, who scored a grand total of five goals during the regular season scored twice as Dustin Brown added the game winning goal early in the third period. The Kings were dominant in the shots on goal category too out shooting Phoenix 17-4 in the first period and 48-27 for the game. Anze Kopitar put LA up 1-0 just 3:53 into the first period with a backhanded shot that beat Mike Smith, who has been solid in the net for the Coyotes all season. The Kings were physically imposing throughout the game and gave the Coyotes very little space on the ice to work with, effectively shutting down the desert dogs offensive attack. Phoenix did get goals from Derek Morris and Mikkel Boedker. It was Boedker who scored the game tying goal for the Coyotes in the second period being one of the few to beat the Kings goalie up close in these playoffs. The others Coyotes goal was a bit of a small fluke as Morris halfway through the first period launched a 98 foot shot from center ice that skipped off of the ice in front of Quick before getting past him and into the net. For the Kings another strong opening game on the road. For the Coyotes, their troubles were only beginning.
Game 2: LA Kings 4 Phoenix 0: Jonathan Quick made 24 saves while Jeff Carter scored a hat trick as the Kings outplayed the Coyotes from the opening face off until the final horn. Dwight King broke the seal on the scoreless tie with 6:45 remaining in the first period tipping in a slap shot from Drew Doughty. Mike Smith made a number of strong saves early prior to King’s goal. In the second period the Coyotes mounted their best offensive surge on Quick launching six shots on net in the first four minutes of the period. However the Kings net minder was on the ball and made every save, and would have nothing to do with the Coyotes net assault except to turn away their best shots. Just seconds after this rally ended for Phoenix, LA’s Carter would net the first of his three goals at 4:47 of the second period. Things then would get chippy with Shane Doan getting five minutes plus the gate for boarding. Carter’s second goal would score with just over a minute remaining in the period as he beat Smith with a power play goal during a Kings five on three man advantage. In the final period Martin Hanzal would draw a boarding penalty that netted a game misconduct and a one game suspension from Mr. Shanahan. LA would out shoot Phoenix in the contest 40-24. Phoenix though did rack up over 50 minutes in penalties, so the Coyotes actually did lead in one category.
Game 3: LA Kings 2 Phoenix 1: Jonathan Quick again made 18 saves and Dwight King’s goal early in the third period stood up as the Kings used the “Rope-A-Dope” defense to grab their commanding 3-0 lead in this series. The game was the closest and mostly tightly contested of the three. However for the Coyotes it was just another evening of frustration before over 19K at the Staples Center. Mike Smith would make 26 saves and do all he could to keep Phoenix alive in the contest. Maybe the best summary of how this series has gone for Phoenix could by summed up in the first 3:10 of the second period. Daymond Langkow gave the desert dogs their first lead in any game this series when he bet Quick with a hard wrister at the 1:03 mark of the period. The Coyotes lead however would last as long as a ice cube on a Phoenix sidewalk in July or August. Anzi Kopitar would score on a break away goal just 2:07 later beating Smith five hole. The Coyotes could not mount any offensive attacks especially late as they were held to just four shots on goal in the final period.
Eastern Conference Finals (Series tied 1-1):
Game 1: NY Rangers 3 NJ Devils 0: Dan Girardi, Chris Kreider, and Artem Anisimov all scored third period goals as the NY Rangers captured the first game of this Eastern Conference Finals series. Henrik Lundqvist would make 21 saves as the Rangers shut down the across the Hudson rivals. The game for the most part was a pretty good “pitchers duel” between Lundqvist and Devils goalie Martin Brodeur who both stood tall in the first two period. Girardi’s goal just 53 seconds into the third period gave the Rangers the boost they needed as New York took control of the game from this point forward. Kreider, the rookie out of the NCAA, drilled a slap shot past Brodeur with eight minutes remaining in the period to all but lock up Game One for the Rangers.
Game 2: NJ Devils 3 NY Rangers 2: David Clarkson’s third period goal just over two and a half minutes into the third period would stand up as the New Jersey Devils drew even with the NY Rangers at 1-1 after two games. Clarkson’s goal was a tip in of a slap shot from Adam Henrique, with the puck sliding past the right side of Henrik Lundqvist who had virtually no time to react to Clarkson’s tip in. Marc Staal, Chris Kreider scored for the Rangers while Ilya Kovalchuk, Ryan Carter also scored for New Jersey. This was one of those classic “Knock Down, Drag Out” games where they goalies had to be solid. Martin Brodeur, who was shelled in the third period of Game One, allowed nothing to get behind him this time as he was solid in making eight saves for the period. The win by the Devils denied the Rangers a chance to gain their first two game lead in these playoffs over any opponent (Ottawa, Washington and of course now New Jersey). One strange event in this game, Marian Gaborik did not see any ice time in the third period as Rangers Head Coach John Tortorella benched Gaborik for a bad turn over late in the second period. Game 3 is Saturday afternoon in New Jersey at 1pm ET (1oam PT).
It’s looking like the Rangers and Devils will be a tough series throughout. Meanwhile, it looks like LA will make quick (no pun intended) work of the Coyotes, then wait to see who comes out of the Eastern Conference.
As always, stay tuned…
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