• For the Hockeywood Dailies previews of the Kings/Coyotes Western Conference Finals series, click here…
LA Times coverage
Theirs is an unlikely convergence, a dramatic shift away from the usual playoff powers to teams whose dreary postseason pedigrees have often gone unnoticed except to be mocked.
The teams, separated by two points in the regular-season standings, might be spiritual cousins from the Pacific Division but not twins. Phoenix finished two points ahead of the Kings in the Western Conference, but the Kings had the edge in their season series, by one point.
From the sofa squatter to four wins away from the Kings landing in the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in franchise history. Game 1 of the Western Conference final between the Kings and Coyotes is Sunday at Phoenix.
Not many would have predicted a few months ago that Richards and his linemate Jeff Carter would be the ones playing for a spot in the Stanley Cup finals, not the Philadelphia Flyers. Exile in Los Angeles never looked quite so good.
All four have been valuable resources in the locker room and on the ice while the Kings advanced to the Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Coyotes, counseling less-experienced teammates on small matters such as getting the proper rest and bigger issues such as how to breathe when the pressure tightens their chests.
Time off hasn’t dulled Jonathan Quick’s reflexes. The Kings’ stellar goaltender took two days off the ice but still displayed excellent speed and lateral moves while trying to dodge onrushing reporters at the team’s practice facility Tuesday.
Youngest son Jordan Nolan, 22, scored his first NHL playoff goal in the 3-1 victory over St. Louis that launched the Kings to the Western Conference finals. The same day his father, Ted, the former coach of the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders, coached the Latvian national team to a victory over Germany at the world hockey championships in Stockholm.
His body needed the respite after he dished out 39 hits over two rounds and helped carry the Kings to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 1993. But Brown, who had six points in the team’s sweep of St. Louis and has 11 points in the playoffs, said the cerebral side of the game has taxed him more than the physical side during upsets of the No. 1-seeded Vancouver Canucks and No. 2-seeded Blues.
Canada’s Team stood between the Kings and a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals nearly two decades ago. Now, it’s merely the NHL’s team.
Other than not having a morning skate, the Kings finally feel like they are back in playoff mode after a hiatus of nearly a week following their four-game series sweep of the St. Louis Blues. And, yes, it feels good.
Kings forward Dustin Penner feels like he’s been taking one long breath in this postseason, only finally there is fresh air coming into his lungs, spreading good will and good fortune throughout his body. He doesn’t want it to stop. He’s challenging himself to make sure it doesn’t.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter couldn’t quite figure out what that noise was. At first he thought it was a train, but that’s only because on his Alberta farm he can hear trains coming for miles.
“Everyone wants to paint him as a farmer, but this guy had a full boat to Princeton — and quite frankly if he had gone that way, I wouldn’t be surprised if this guy was on Wall Street right now,” Lombardi told NHL.com. “He is very sharp, but because he’s a cowboy, us liberal intellects from the Northeast want to label him as stupid. We tend to do that. That’s the thing that is really underrated here.”
The Phoenix Coyotes have yet to see Carter’s trademark shot. Carter came to the Kings from the Columbus Blue Jackets in late February, after L.A. had finished its six-game series against the Coyotes. Carter, in fact, didn’t face Phoenix as a member of the Blue Jackets and last played against Phoenix on Feb. 22, 2011, with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Kings goalie coach Bill Ranford recalls marveling at the athleticism and swagger Jonathan Quick had when he was a collegiate star at the University of Massachusetts.
“He was the show,” Ranford, an ex-NHL goalie, told NHL.com. “He was the superstar there, the big man on campus, and he could do whatever he wanted. His game was all athletic.”
Imagine that — Hextall, one of the most ferocious and fiery goaltenders to ever play in the NHL, was considered the mild-mannered one when it came to lecturing Quick about his indefensible and irresponsible act of sleeping through a part of a practice and a breakfast meeting with goalie development coach Kim Dillabaugh when he was a first-year pro in the minors.
The Coyotes won the last two regular-season meetings and edged the Kings for the Pacific Division title. Los Angeles has been the better team during the playoffs and is favored by many to take home the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. But the Coyotes have been the underdogs since the playoffs began and have reveled in the role, beating Chicago and Nashville eight out of 11 times.
Did you ever feel that it was unraveling this season?
“No, because the guys cared and I knew it was a good team. A lot of the problems at the beginning of the season were my fault. I violated a couple of the rules I was taught, I got away from fit. We had brought in good players, but they weren’t in the best position to succeed.”
If not for the advice of steady-handed Lou Lamoriello in 1996 and the friendship and eventual job offer from the fiery Bob Clarke in 2003, Lombardi might be somewhere back in Massachusetts right now, putting his Tulane University law degree toward something far more safer — but far less rewarding — than he is right now as the general manager of the Los Angeles Kings, one of the five teams still standing in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
• The Hockey News: Kings investment in Drew Doughty already paying off
Based on the way Drew Doughty has played for the red-hot Los Angeles Kings lately, it seems almost unfathomable his worth to the team was questioned over the summer. But that was exactly the case during those negotiations – and neither side was wrong.
• The Hockey News: How did Quick get missed?
Clearly, there were aspects of Quick’s game that caused him to fall to the third round (72nd overall) of the 2005 entry draft. But it isn’t as if the Kings or any other league franchises whiffed on not drafting him sooner. It happens all the time with goalies, who in many cases are notorious late bloomers. And as my Draft Preview story argues, that’s why you see so few teams willing to use a first round pick on a goalie.
• SI.com: Patience pays for Voynov and Kings
It started out as yet another winter of discontent in New Hampshire for Slava Voynov, who last October unhappily began his fourth season as a pro hockey player in North America. Drafted 32nd overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 2008, the Russian defenseman knew he’d likely have to spend some dues-paying time in Manchester before he got his shot in the NHL. But four years? Nyet.
• Sporting News: In playoff time for winter sports, our lonely eyes turn to…L.A.?
And this week, all of those common pastimes seemed a tremendous waste because Los Angeles, global capital of illusion, tossed aside its lovable shallowness and slipped into something far more interesting.
Yes, the city snobby East Coasters derisively call La-La Land is far and away the best sports hub on the continent. Tinseltown has grown a pair.
• Variety: Rangers-Kings matchup could pump NHL
The Stanley Cup Finals are still a couple of weeks off, but if the puck rolls NBC’s way, there is a possibility of an attractive bicoastal New York-Los Angeles matchup.
While it may not be the Yankees vs. the Dodgers, the two cities have a storied sports rivalry, and ratings could soar — at least by NHL standards.
• The Hollywood Reporter: Hollywood’s Hockey Jockeys: How Industry Execs Are Lending Their Support to the L.A. Kings
Not only do the Los Angeles Kings have a lot of passionate fans in the industry, they even have a few working for them — for perks, not pay. With an assist from its under-the-radar Hollywood Advisory Board, the hockey team is cooking in the NHL playoffs for the first time in years and eyeing its first Stanley Cup in its 45-year history.