GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Mike Smith has had a great postseason, and the Los Angeles Kings saw in Game 4 of this Western Conference Finals how he can affect a game both by stopping shots and by stopping the forecheck with his outlet passes.
The objective for the Kings in Game 5 Tuesday (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS) will be simple, but not something that always is easy to execute: Make Smith work more in his crease and less outside of it. Los Angeles had 36 shots in Game 4, but many were from the perimeter and few came after the initial attempt.
"Some of them were [quality shots], some of them were from the outside," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "Sometimes even the outside shot seems harmless, but it can be dangerous. The second and third chances off that shot are the most important. We've got to make sure we keep making him work and get some guys in front of him."
Added forward Dustin Penner: "We need to put more traffic towards their goaltender, get more second and third opportunities. Not so many one-chance-and-done kind of things."
The other facet of Smith's game that frustrates opponents is his ability to play the puck. Los Angeles loves to wear teams down on the forecheck, and the Kings have had success doing that against the smaller Coyotes. Not so after the early stages in Game 4, however, and Smith's ability to get the puck out of danger before the L.A. forwards arrive was a big part of that.
As Kopitar put it, when the Kings send the puck into the Phoenix end they need to "either fire it really hard or try to make sure it doesn't end up in the trapezoid area."
"Smith can handle the puck with the top goalies in the League," forward Dwight King said. "We try to keep our dumps away from him, realizing that he can make plays with [the puck]. We definitely know what he is capable of doing to us and we need to keep that in our mindset."
The Kings have lost only twice in this postseason, both times being a Game 4 with a chance to sweep the opponent. Los Angeles responded in Game 5 against Vancouver with an overtime victory at Rogers Arena.
They will be going for their eighth consecutive victory away from Staples Center when they face the Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena.
"We've had to be [a good road team]. That's a fact," coach Darryl Sutter said. "You're not a home-ice team, you've got to be. When you're a team that doesn't score many goals, you've got to be. You've got to manufacture and find different ways to do it. We found it.
"I know what the talk is, because of our road record. When you look at all the different ways the team's won, it's won by your goalie being great, or your power play, or the other team taking a bad penalty, your penalty killing, overtime. There's so many different ways to it. It's not just, 'That's how you did it, that's how you do it.' There's so many different ways of doing it. The biggest thing we do is, win or lose, try and play the same way. That's the most important thing."
Here is the projected lineup for the Kings, who aren't expected to make any changes from Game 4:
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- There has been plenty of uncertainty for the Phoenix Coyotes around this time of year in recent seasons. When the Coyotes were eliminated by the Detroit Red Wings in each of the past two postseasons, they've had to answer questions about the future whereabouts of the franchise.
Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who came to the desert with the organization from Winnipeg after his rookie season, has had to answer those types of questions more than anyone. As the Coyotes face elimination from the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Sunday against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, there is a different kind of uncertainty for Doan.
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Phoenix Coyotes felt they played better in Game 3 of this Western Conference Final series. They also came up short again, and now are one loss from elimination.
There is an extra off day in the schedule between Games 3 and 4 because of the congestion at Staples Center with the Los Angeles Kings, Clippers and Lakers still participating in the postseason. Most of the Coyotes that played Thursday night took Friday off, as coach Dave Tippett tried to give them a break from the day-to-day grind of the playoffs.
LOS ANGELES -- This won't be the first time the Phoenix Coyotes have faced a critical 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff contest without Martin Hanzal, so consider them prepared for the situation.
Hanzal won't play Thursday in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals series against Los Angeles (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS) because of a hit late in Game 2 on Kings captain Dustin Brown. He also missed three games in the first round against Chicago because of injury, and the Coyotes won two of those three games.
"Obviously we want him in the lineup, no doubt about that. We've been in this situation, facing adversity and missing a couple guys like Marty," Coyotes center Antoine Vermette said. "I think it is a team play -- with or without him we have to be strong in support of each other.
"I think generally when we're successful that is how we approach it. We have every line doing their same things, play the same ways. Some nights it is different lines that can score. We feel confident that we can generate some offense from different lines."
Langkow has no goals and six points in 13 playoff games, but he had at least 50 points in eight straight seasons earlier in his career. If the grey flecks in his beard weren't enough of a clue, he's a veteran of 72 postseason games and more than 1,000 in the regular season.
"Yeah, I've been there before," Langkow said. "We've got to work hard as a group and play our game and get the job the done. I haven't played with [Vrbata] at all except for a little bit in the third [period] at the end of last game. I've played with [Pyatt] a little bit. I know what kind of players they are. [Pyatt] is real good down low and obviously [Vrbata] is a great shooter. We just need to work hard and make things click."
Added Pyatt: "He [Langkow] is a real solid veteran centerman that can make a lot of plays. He'll step in and do a real good job."
There may be more of an onus on the Vermette line to provide offense, but the Coyotes have been a goals-by-committee club for much of the past three seasons. That said, the team's top two scorers during the regular season, Vrbata and Ray Whitney, have gone five games without a point.
Hanzal is tied with Pyatt for second on the team in goals in the playoffs with three, and has played at least 17:31 in every playoff game that he's finished for the Coyotes.
"He's strength in the middle. He's a big guy that, for most of the year, has centered our top line," coach Dave Tippett said. "It is what it is. We've got to focus on the players that are coming in, on a game plan that we feel we can be successful with. Certainly like to have Marty in there, but it's not a factor tonight, so we have to concentrate on the other options."
LOS ANGELES -- The Phoenix Coyotes are in a tough spot, down 2-0 to the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals and facing two games on the road, starting with Game 3 of the series here at Staples Center on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, CBC).
The odds are stacked in the Los Angeles Kings' favor, and finding people who expect the Coyotes to win this series outside the Phoenix dressing room could be a difficult task.
In other words, it's a normal day for the Coyotes.
"We were joking about how obviously everyone is picking the Kings to win this now, and that's a good thing because pretty much everyone has been picking against us for three years," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. "The moment people start picking us is when we have to be worried. We just have to find a way to rally around something."
Few pundits expected the Coyotes to return to the playoffs this season after losing goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov in the summer. Not only are they back in the playoffs, but they have reached the conference finals for the first time in franchise history.
While the Coyotes were the higher seed in each of their first two playoff series this year, Chicago and Nashville had amassed more points during the regular season and were the favorites. Even though Phoenix eked out the Pacific Division title, finishing ahead of San Jose and Los Angeles, the Kings were a heavy favorite against the Coyotes.
Now that the Kings have won the first two games in Phoenix and the Coyotes will be without center Martin Hanzal because of a suspension and defenseman Adrian Aucoin because of an injury, there won't be many people expecting a victory for the road team on Thursday.
"Somebody sent me an e-mail [Wednesday] about being picked 15th going into the conference [this season]," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "We're finding ways to overcome the adversity and we'll continue to try to find that. That's kind of the way it's been for a long time for us, so that doesn't seem to bother us too much."
Added Doan: "We've been pretty good at blocking things that are going on around us and just finding a way to win. That's all we've got to do [Thursday] -- find a way to win one game."
That time is going to come pretty soon, though. When Hunter agreed to replace Bruce Boudreau as the team's coach in November, he reportedly signed a one-year deal through the remainder of the 2011-12 season.
That means he and the organization have a decision to make. Several players have said they would like to see Hunter return next season, as has general manager George McPhee.
Hunter left the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League to coach in the NHL for the first time. He and his brother Mark are co-owners of the team. Before taking this job, Dale Hunter was the coach and vice president of the Knights while his brother was the team's president. Mark Hunter replaced Dale behind the bench, and the Knights will begin play in the Memorial Cup later this week.
"We do our best and it's probably best team I played [on]," captain Alex Ovechkin said. "You know, group of guys and atmosphere, everybody was - it's unbelievable to play and I hope everybody gonna stay here 'til next year."
ARLINGTON, Va. -- When a team plays in as many close games as the Washington Capitals have this postseason, there is bound to be some luck involved.
One area where the Capitals have had some good fortune is in the trainer's room. Every team has players dealing with minor injuries at this point of the season, but when Jay Beagle missed Game 6 against the New York Rangers, he became the first player to miss a contest because of injury this postseason.
"Guys have been playing hard, and it is a little surprising," veteran forward Mike Knuble said. "That Boston series was a physical series. It just seems like there is always somebody tweaking something and missing a game or two here or there. Knock on wood, we've avoided the big one, and Jay is the first guy to go down."
Dealing with injuries goes beyond man-games lost in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Capitals know that as well as any team. Past postseason failures have been littered with guys, often critical guys, trying to play through an injury because that's what hockey players do at this time of the year.
Brooks Laich played through a postseason with a broken foot. Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom have played with a broken thumb. Mike Green has had multiple postseasons marred by multiple injuries, and he did finally miss time at the end of the series against Tampa Bay last year because of a shoulder ailment. Even Alex Ovechkin, who just scored his 30th goal in 50 career postseason games, has played through injury in years' past.
Some of the Capitals are certainly playing through pain right now as they prepare for Game 7 against the Rangers in Madison Square Garden. But both Knuble and Karl Alzner admitted the team has had better luck with injuries than in years' past, and the club is relatively healthy -- sans for Beagle, who didn't skate again Friday and seems doubtful for Game 7.
"We are [healthier]," Alzner said. "I think we're very fortunate with the style of hockey we've been playing that we don't have as many injuries as we've had in the past. I mean, guys are taking care of themselves really well and the trainers are making sure everybody is healing up. We're very, very fortunate that is the case right now.
"It is very nice. We just hope that nothing goes the wrong way. That's all you can really do. Injuries are going to happen, and teams that are the deepest are going to figure it out the best."
ARLINGTON, Va. -- There were flashes of the dreaded "sophomore slump" for Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson this season, but he's picked the right time to be playing some of his best hockey.
Carlson had a fantastic rookie campaign in 2010-11, his first full season in the NHL, teaming up with fellow young defenseman Karl Alzner to form the team's most trusted pairing, while also racking up seven goals and 37 points.
He finished this regular season with nine goals and 32 points, but his work in the defensive end eroded. Plus-minus isn't a tell-all stat, but Carlson's drop from plus-21 to minus-15 was jarring. Carlson did score in the season finale against Florida, but that ended one of two droughts of six weeks or more without a tally.
"I think towards the end of the season I started getting my legs back under me, felt a lot better about myself and my game," Carlson said. "I think it is just a progression thing. I was confident that I could do it and get back to where I needed to be and I think that I'm playing good now."
Carlson's play has been much improved this postseason. He has two goals and five points in the 13 games, but four of the points have come in the past seven.
He's also played more than 20 minutes in every postseason game but one, and more than 30 minutes twice. Paired every night with Alzner, they are again back to being Washington's shutdown pairing.
"He's been playing really well," Hunter said. "He's been physical and jumping up in the play and creating offense. But also they got a tough job of dealing with the top line every night. Him and [Alzner] are doing a great job."
Added Carlson: "I don't know. I think it seems like I'm getting some bounces, getting some breaks. It feels like I am seeing the rush a little bit more and trying to join the play if I can if it is not detrimental to my team."
Carlson did get a nice bounce in Game 6. His shot from the right point went off Nicklas Backstrom's skate and skipped toward the left post -- just where Jason Chimera was waiting for an easy tap-in goal.
He isn't the only young defenseman with elite potential to struggle at times during his second full NHL season. Montreal's P.K. Subban also struggled at times this season. So too did Los Angeles' Drew Doughty during his sophomore campaign.
Carlson does appear to have figured it out, and has moved on.
"It's over now, so it doesn't matter," he said.
Added Hunter: "I think every player goes through it; it's a long season. When it counts in the playoffs, he's been a horse for us."
"We don't know for sure yet," Hunter said when asked if Beagle might join the team for practice Friday.
Beagle didn't skate Tuesday or Wednesday before Game 6, but Hunter said before the game that he would play. Mike Vogel, senior writer for capitals.nhl.com and reporter for Caps 365, reported on Twitter that Beagle was in the dressing room putting his equipment on but the injury "did not repsond as he and team had hoped."
Jeff Halpern replaced Beagle in the lineup. Brooks Laich said he didn't know Beagle was out until the team was on the ice for warm-ups. Beagle blocked a shot in Game 5 with his right leg, which is likely what caused the injury.
Beagle has become one of Washington's most critical players and one of Hunter's most trusted guys, often logging big minutes against top competition in this postseason.