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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 9:39 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Kings series blog

Coyotes play down underdog staus

The Phoenix Coyotes seemingly are perpetual underdogs. Between their struggles on the ice and their unsettled ownership situation, it's easy to forget that they've made the playoffs three years in a row and are the reigning Pacific Division champions.

The Coyotes earned the third seed in the West this spring by virtue of their division title, and they'll have the home-ice edge for the third series in a row against Los Angeles. It's the third year in a row they've been in the top six in the West -- a fact that Phoenix captain Shane Doan doesn't want people to forget.

"No one seems to mention that two years ago we finished with 107 points and we were three points away from leading the West, and five points away from leading the whole NHL," Doan said during Thursday's conference call with the media. "But no one recognizes that. We got knocked out in seven games by Detroit. Had a couple things go wrong with a couple of injuries in the playoffs that really hurt us. But I think that it's kind of been it's been kind of the next step as we move along, and we want to keep it going."

Coach Dave Tippett doesn't mind having his team labeled the underdog against the Kings -- after all, the Coyotes weren't favored to beat Chicago or Nashville in the first two rounds, and they did.

"Hasn't bothered us much yet, so we'll find where we are," he said of being the underdog. "It was very competitive all year in our division. I think we won the last couple of games of the regular season to get the third seed, which turned out to be very important to us for home ice advantage.

"But our team, I think, a lot of people always view us as a smaller-market team that we're in the hunt, but nobody views us as a contender. I look at our game as kind of evolved [during] the last part of the regular season into the playoffs, where we have the confidence we can beat anybody. We recognize that we'll probably always be looked at as the underdog, but that hasn't changed for us in the last three years. So we're comfortable in that mode."

Tippett said his team benefitted by having to deal with fewer off-ice distractions this season.

"The distractions were less this year," he said. "I thought the NHL did a very good job of keeping it away from us. The thing about last year, we were going through a situation where it looked like there was an owner and then lawsuits, and gold water groups. There was a lot of stuff going on that we didn't have to deal with this year.

"I think ultimately what's happened is we've become very hardened to it. Our group has always used it as a motivating factor, not a crutch. This year as much as it was still around, it seemed less infectious on us."

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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 9:21 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Kings series blog

Kings bring back memories of '04 Flames to Sutter

The Los Angeles Kings haven't been this far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1993 -- but their coach has. In fact, Darryl Sutter took Calgary to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2004 before the Flames came up a goal short against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Sutter was asked during a media conference call on Thursday to compare two of the key players on this year's team, captain Dustin Brown and goaltender Jonathan Quick, to Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff, their counterparts on the '04 Flames.

Sutter, who has guided the Kings to the Western Conference Finals, noted that Iginla has much better offensive numbers than Brown, but found several other similarities between the two captains.

"The big difference when I went to Calgary with Jarome, Jarome was already a Hart Trophy winner, had won a scoring race, and he had won all the major awards. That is significant," he said. "There is a big difference in terms of Jarome Iginla -- he is a 50-goal scorer over and over. Other than that, in terms of personality and character and what they bring, there are real similarities."

For his part, Brown said Iginla was one of the players he tried to model himself after.

"He's been a top player in this League for quite a few years now," he said. "You look at the goal scoring and all of that with Jarome. But he also brings that mean streak and that physical edge in the way that he plays.

"I probably don't score to the extent that he can score. But a lot of other things that I try to do -- I grew up watching him in my first few years. He was one of those guys that I looked and watched how he played the game because he led by example on the ice, and I think that's probably the best way to do it.

Sutter saw more similarities between Quick and Kiprusoff.

"I think they play a lot the same way in their styles," he said. "It's a little bit different than other guys. Same practice habits -- both have real similar work ethics, both have the same demeanor in the locker room -- but there are real similarities between these two guys."

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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 9:05 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Kings series blog

Kings eager to get back to work

The best news the Los Angeles Kings got Thursday was finding out when they'll be going back to work.

The Kings had a long break after beating Vancouver in the first round, then found themselves with another in-season vacation after they completed a sweep of St. Louis in the second round on Sunday. L.A. finally learned on Thursday that its Western Conference Final series against Phoenix will begin Sunday night in Glendale, Ariz. (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS).

Kings captain Dustin Brown is glad to have a starting date after three days of not knowing when the series would begin. He just wishes it were sooner

"Does it bug me we have to wait till Sunday to play? Definitely I'd rather play today," Brown said during a media conference call. "It's one of those things that just the way the scheduling works with the TV games and trying to put it on national TV, and the East going as long as it is, it's one of those things that is part of getting yourself ready.

"From a playing standpoint, I think if you ask any player in Phoenix or L.A., I think they were probably wishing we were playing tomorrow night."

Coach Darryl Sutter has been careful to walk the fine line between rest and rust for his team.

"We gave everybody two days [off], so that cut into it," he said of the long break. "We've had two days of practice, and I don't think anybody gets stale. Some guys are still very much in recovery mode from injuries, so the more you can get them healthy, the better you are."

The Kings didn't necessarily prefer to play the Coyotes rather than the Nashville Predators, but there is one benefit -- Phoenix is only about 350 miles from L.A.; Nashville is nearly 1,800 miles away.

"Well, I thought that was one of the breaks of playing in the Western Conference. We got a little bit of less travel like the East," Sutter deadpanned when asked about playing what passes for a local rival in the spread-out West. "God bless Los Angeles and Phoenix."

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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 7:23 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Kings series blog

Doan: We'll go as far as Smith takes us

It's a hockey cliché that you win or lose as a team. But for Phoenix captain Shane Doan, one Coyote has become indispensable to the team's success.

Goaltender Mike Smith was an unheralded free-agent signing last summer who led the Coyotes to the first division title in franchise history and has backstopped the team into the conference finals for the first time since it joined the NHL in 1979. To Doan, he's the guy they can't do without.

"He's as valuable to our team as there is a player in the League," Doan said during a conference call with the media on Thursday. "Obviously he's proven himself, but last series he got to go against Pekka Rinne who is nominated for the Vezina. And this series he gets to go against Jonathan Quick. Another guy nominated for the Vezina.

"We're going to go as far as Smitty can carry us."

In the eyes of Doan, perhaps the most impressive thing about Smith is his competitive nature.

"I don't think you could ever beat his competitiveness out of him," Doan said. "It's not like you could get four goals on him, and he's like, 'oh, man. I've had a bad game. I'm going to [quit], this isn't my game.' It's like, 'well, there is no way you're getting that fifth one.'

"That is kind of what I get from him. He's so competitive."

The Coyotes signed Smith last summer after trading free agent-to-be Ilya Bryzgalov partly because coach Dave Tippett knew him from their time together in Dallas. Tippett also felt that Smith, a big goaltender at 6-foot-3, would work well with Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke, who was among the NHL's tallest goaltenders during his playing days.

"I had history with Mike in Dallas, and I thought he was a player that if he got the opportunity could really flourish," Tippett said. "I thought the relationship between him and Sean Burke would be a very good one. Both of them are similar kinds of goalies and have gone through similar issues in their career. Mike came in, was looking for an opportunity. We had an opportunity to give. And the work he and Sean have done together has given us a very, very good player."

"I really believe through this year he's evolved into one of the elite goaltenders in the League, and certainly that's been on display in the playoffs."

Tippett said one reason for the Coyotes' springtime success is the fact that he's confident in his own play -- and that his teammates share that confidence.

"We always talk about confidence is earned," Tippett said. "If you look at the year he's had and the work he's put in, he's earned that confidence. I would second that in the fact not only is he confident in his own play, he's earned the trust and the confidence of the players in front of him. So when a goaltender can do that, it leads to a very competitive team."

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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 6:35 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Kings series blog

Brown's more than a hitter now

Dustin Brown has been one of the NHL's most prolific hitters since entering the NHL eight years ago. He's still one of the League's top thumpers -- his 293 hits during the regular season were second to Matt Martin of the New York Islanders -- but he says his style of play has evolved.

"I think my game has changed a lot from when I first came up," the Los Angeles Kings' captain said during a media conference call Thursday. "I'm a little more even keel."

Unlike a lot of big hitters whose usefulness is largely limited to their physical play, Brown has been a productive offensive force -- he's scored at least 22 goals in each of the last five seasons. Brown also leads the Kings in playoff scoring with 11 points, including six goals, and is tops among all players with a plus-9 rating.

"I still get my hits," he said, "but the flip side is that I'm in better position to get scoring chances. It's a matter of balance."

Like the rest of his teammates, Brown has been waiting since Sunday to see when the Kings would start the Western Conference Finals -- they've been off since completing a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues this past Sunday. The Kings learned Thursday that they'll begin their series against the Phoenix Coyotes Sunday in Glendale, Ariz.

Brown conceded that he understood that arena factors and other considerations are responsible for the long break -- but to say he's ready to go now would be putting it mildly.

"Does it bug me that we have to wait until Sunday to play?" he said. "Yes. I'd rather play today, but that's the way the schedule works."
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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 5:46 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Kings series blog

Kings practice while continuing to play waiting game

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Kings are finding out the downside to their efficient march through the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It’s kind of like a Tom Petty song: The waiting is the hardest part.

It will have been one week from their elimination of the St. Louis Blues until the puck drops on Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS). The necessity of a seventh game between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals on Saturday extended the time. L.A. has been back at practice for three days.

"From a player's standpoint, if we could play tomorrow, we would," captain Dustin Brown said. "Practice is one thing, a game's another, especially at this time of year. We're getting all the rest we need. But it's been a while. Not only that, these are exciting games to be a part of and we just want to keep going."

Coach Darryl Sutter is obsessed with schedule and his practice routine leading up to a series. The 5 p.m. Pacific start time for Game 1 means the Kings will likely practice in Phoenix on Saturday because Sutter won't have a morning skate on Sunday.

Sutter also thinks like a player, so he understands the challenge this week brings for him and his players.

"They're anxious," Sutter said. "It's normal, right? They're used to playing every second or third day."

L.A. is coming off an emotional Game 4 victory against St. Louis that propelled it to the conference finals for the first time since 1993. Sutter said the Kings have done well to quickly put it past them and focus on the next round.

He held an optional skate Tuesday, put them through conditioning drills Wednesday and did one-on-one drills Thursday.

"A little bit of recovery for some guys that are banged-up," Sutter said of this week. "Some of the older guys have two-and-a-half days without skating. You always wonder what that means. But quite honestly, you have communication with them and see how they feel about it. That's the most important part. So then you get back to practice and you reinforce some stuff. You reinforce Phoenix and what they've been doing differently."

Brown isn't worried about having to ramp up the energy and emotion after sitting around for a week. The Kings don’t need any more motivation at this point.

"It's one thing if we're sitting here after All-Star break, it's a little harder to get going for game whatever it is," Brown said. "We're talking Game 1 of the Western finals, so the emotion, the hard work will be there. It's a matter of knocking the rust off right -- the only way to do that is to get involved in the game."

Sutter, meanwhile, went to Dodger Stadium for the first time Wednesday night and was awed by the venerable venue.

"I'd love to go back when we're not playing because of all the history," Sutter said. "It's pretty awesome."

Sutter said he was a "huge" Chicago Cubs fan when he played for the Chicago Blackhawks.

"I like baseball and I like the history part, too," he said. "It was good to see that."
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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 5:42 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Kings series blog

Richards conflicted to see Flyers get knocked out

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Kings center Mike Richards was somewhat conflicted when he watched the Philadelphia Flyers get eliminated from the postseason.

A former Flyers captain, Richards remains friends with his former teammates and still thinks positively of the city even though the Flyers traded him amid rumors of his alleged partying. The good memories are of those teammates.

"You always wish them the best and you never want to go against a team, especially when you have a lot of friends down there," Richards said. "It's a city that's given me a lot, so you always hope the best for them. Obviously we have a long ways to go before we even get there, but I know for [L.A. teammate and former Flyer Jeff Carter] and me, it would be a little bit awkward if we had to back there and play in the first year back. It would have been a little bit weird."

On the other hand, Richards gets to see his former coach Peter DeBoer of the New Jersey Devils move on.

"I had him for four years in Kitchener [of the OHL] and how good a coach he is and how he got the team ready for them, and how demanding he is as a coach and how smart he is," Richards said. "I'm not surprised by that. They're obviously well-coached and they've stuck to their game plan to a tee. It's kind of fun to watch, how fast they were, and whoever plays them in the next round is going to have their hands full."
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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 5:14 PM

By Jeremy Roenick -  NHL Network Contributor /NHL.com - World According to JR

JR: No surprise Rangers and Caps are going seven

NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick pens a weekly blog for NHL.com. "World According to JR" usually includes Roenick's sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League. However, with Game 7 between the Rangers and Capitals coming up in New York on Saturday and the Western Conference Finals now set between two of the teams he used to play for, Roenick offered some of his thoughts on both.

A Game 7 in New York between the Capitals and Rangers -- no surprise at all. A Western Conference Finals that is starting in Phoenix -- big surprise.

Rangers-Caps

I don't think anybody is surprised they're going to a Game 7 for a couple of reasons.

For one, I've been so impressed with the way the Washington Capitals have been able to flip the switch and go out there and play flawless hockey.

It's amazing what a hot goaltender will do for a team's confidence, for its psyche, for its energy. Braden Holtby has an attitude that runs right through the whole team. The Caps feel confident they can win every game. They feel confident their goaltender is going to stop the puck if there is a breakdown.

I don't think that is something they had all year. I don't think Tomas Vokoun lived up to that potential and neither did Michal Neuvirth.

Good for Braden Holtby. He is so much fun to watch.

On the flip side: The Rangers during the regular season, their big problem was their goal-scoring ability, which is why there was so much talk about them acquiring Rick Nash at the trade deadline. Well, they barely slipped by Ottawa and now they're in another Game 7 with Washington mainly because their goal scoring seems very limited.

The Rangers are a very good, sound defensive team. Their goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, is off the charts. And it's going to be up to Lundqvist again to backstop a team in Game 7 that probably won't score more than two goals.

That's a very heavy burden and pressure-packed situation for Lundqvist to be in -- but if you're going to have that situation I can't think of a better guy to have in net than Lundqvist because he's been doing it all year.

We'll see how it all works out, but it's going to be an exciting game. It has been the most fun series to watch in the second round. L.A. made it look easy, Phoenix made it look easy, the Devils looked great -- but here we have some real, true drama with Washington and the Rangers unfolding in a Game 7.

This is what the National Hockey League needs. This is what NBC needs. North America will get treated to a very important rivalry in a very important game.

As for a prediction, since the game is in Madison Square Garden I think the Rangers might sneak this thing out in overtime.

Kings-Coyotes

It's the battle of the sun states. I played in both markets, but I didn't have a very good experience in L.A. and that was mostly my own fault.

But to think that Phoenix is going to host Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference Finals -- I guess I'm not surprised that they're there, but hosting it? The fact that they finished No. 3 and finished off the season as strong as they did to secure that ever-so important home-ice advantage for this situation, that's huge for them.

It's a great story. In fact, there are a lot of great storylines in the NHL these days. You have Holtby emerging as a No. 1 goalie, the Capitals playing as well as they have. You have Jonathan Quick securing himself as a superstar. You have Mike Smith, who is probably the only star now in Phoenix.

But both of these teams in the Western Conference deserve it. They've been wallowing in mediocrity for a long time, one round and out, and sometimes not any rounds. Phoenix has gone through ownership issues, attendance issues, but the Coyotes just continue to put a good, quality hockey team on the ice that battles, and it is paying off.

It's really nice to see the way Don Maloney and Dave Tippett have created something exciting to get behind.

But if everyone was talking about how Los Angeles and St. Louis would be the lowest-scoring series of all time -- well, I think this one between the Kings and Coyotes definitely could be.

I could be wrong, though. There could be a surprise or two coming. You never know.
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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 4:44 PM

By Tal Pinchevsky -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Flyers vs. Devils series blog

Devils split on if they'll follow Rangers-Caps Game 7

NEWARK, N.J. -- By the time Game 7 between the Rangers and Capitals ends Saturday night, the Devils will finally know whom and where they'll be playing in the Eastern Conference Finals. But with four days off before that series finale even starts, not all of the Devils will be enjoying that evening watching on television.

"If I start watching the game, I'll start thinking we're going to play this team next. Then the next period I'll think I'm going to play the other team," said Petr Sykora, who won a Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2000 and has no plans on watching. "I'm going to worry about my own game and myself. The next day we'll have a meeting about who we're going to play. Mentally I'm going to try to recharge and just get ready for whomever we play."

For younger players experiencing their first prolonged playoff action, the opportunity to watch the game seems more appealing. But don't expect them to hover around the television anticipating their next opponent.

"I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't be at home with the game on, watching parts of it at least," winger David Clarkson said. "I might not watch the whole game, but I'll definitely watch some of it."

For one member of the Devils' staff, having the opportunity to rest and watch two teams battle for a spot in the conference finals is a luxury. But not because Game 7s are typically so exciting.

"Absolutely," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said when asked about watching the big game. "More with a coaching hat on than a fan's perspective. Every Game 7 is great, but from my perspective it's for pre-scouting both teams. So when we wake up Sunday morning we can hit the ground running based on who we're playing."
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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 1:10 PM

By Tal Pinchevsky -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Flyers vs. Devils series blog

Devils have spirited practice minus two defensemen

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils defenseman Marek Zidlicky, who left Tuesday's Game 5 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in the second period after suffering an undisclosed injury following a hit from winger Wayne Simmonds, was held out of practice Thursday in Newark, along with fellow defenseman Anton Volchenkov.

When asked about both defensemen, Devils coach Peter DeBoer described their day off as a "rest day" and said he expected them both to be available for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Devils went through a high-impact practice in anticipation of the next round of the playoffs, which will see them face either the New York Rangers or Washington Capitals for the right to go to the Stanley Cup Final.

"We had a work day today," said DeBoer. "I think you have to stay in the rhythm of pushing your bodies every other night. That's the NHL playoffs."

Zidlicky has six points in 12 games this postseason and has quarterbacked New Jersey's power play since being acquired from the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 24. New Jersey dressed just six defensemen for practice on Thursday, including Matt Taormina, who has yet to make an appearance in this year's playoffs and hasn't dressed for the Devils since March 27. Peter Harrold, who has not dressed since Game 2 against the Flyers, could be called into duty if the Devils found themselves short a defenseman.

Volchenkov was on the receiving end of a hard hit from Philadelphia's Zac Rinaldo early in the Game 5 win over the Flyers, but managed to finish the game.

The Devils will hold an optional off-ice workout tomorrow before getting back on the ice for practice on Saturday.
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