After polishing off a five-game series win against Nashville with a 2-1 win Monday night, the Phoenix Coyotes will face the Los Angeles Kings for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl -- and the right to battle the Eastern Conference champion in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. No start date has been announced yet, but considering how long each team has waited to get this far -- this will be L.A.'s first Conference Finals appearance in 19 years and the first in the Phoenix franchise's 33-year NHL history -- waiting a few more days probably won't hurt.
Every Western Conference team is familiar with every other one, but few are probably quite as familiar with one another as these two. After all, as Pacific Division rivals, the Coyotes and Kings played six times this season, and considering that they each won three games apiece, there is no surefire sign of who will get the edge when the teams drop the puck in Game 1 at Jobing.com Arena.
Still, those six games could reveal an indication of what to expect when Phoenix and L.A. clash for the Conference title. As if Jonathan Quick and Mike Smith's recent performance wasn't enough of a clue, we could see some impressive goaltending, as three games between these two ended in shutouts. And if you've enjoyed the abundance of playoff overtime so far, you could be in for even more, as half of the games Phoenix and L.A. played weren't settled in regulation.
Here is a look back at each game between the Kings and Coyotes during the 2011-12 regular season:
Jonathan Quick, who stopped 28 shots to become the first Kings goalie to pitch back-to-back shutouts in five years and, perhaps more notably, became the fastest goalie in Kings history to reach 100 career wins. Quick accomplished the feat in just 185 career games, far faster than the only other two L.A. goalies to reach the mark, Rogie Vachon and Kelly Hrudey.
In what could be a precursor of what's to come this month, Mike Smith was nearly as good in net for Phoenix, making several impressive stops to keep the game close, but in the end Quick proved stronger, as second-period goals by Dustin Brown and Kyle Clifford were all L.A. would need to take the opening salvo of the season series.
Nine days later, the Coyotes were looking for some way -- any way -- to beat the Kings. Phoenix had lost four straight to L.A. dating back to 2010-11, and while the drought would finally end in the Kings' first visit to the desert of the season, it would take a few extra minutes. The Coyotes looked to be in good shape after two highlight-reel goals by Radim Vrbata put Phoenix up 2-1 in the first period, but at 6:30 of the third, Anze Kopitar buried a rebound in the crease past a sprawling Quick to tie the game.
Quick and Smith put on another show in net, combining for 67 saves on 72 shots, but with the game appearing destined for a shootout, Vrbata led a rush up ice in the final minute of overtime and fed Daymond Langkow in front, where Langkow put a hard-angle shot past Quick and into the net with 43.7 seconds left.
Darryl Sutter, who had recently replaced Terry Murray behind the bench, and the Kings had cemented their reputation as a team that struggled to find its offense. Prior to this game the Kings had gone 14 games without scoring more than two goals in regulation, but with some unlikely people contributing, L.A. snapped out of its funk. Rob Scuderi, Brad Richardson and Willie Mitchell all lit the lamp, while Brown potted the eventual game-winner at 7:06 of the third period.
Phoenix knew it might be in for a tough night at the start, as Smith was missing his third straight game due a groin injury, leaving Jason LaBarbera to get the start. LaBarbera was solid for most of the evening, but after giving up his fourth goal, he was pulled in favor of Curtis McElhinney. Quick had 26 saves on the night, including a big one against Derek Morris that could have tied the game in the final minutes.
In the eighth game of Sutter's tenure with L.A., the goals still weren't coming as frequently as he might have liked. But, goals don't always matter if you can manage to pull together some points in the standings. The Kings had managed to do that heading into their fourth game of the season with the Coyotes, going 4-0-3, but the goals still weren't coming and with Quick and Smith headed for their third duel of the season this game proved to be more of the same.
Neither goalie seemed likely to give up any score at all, but after making 27 saves to that point, Smith missed the last one, as Drew Doughty snapped a nearly two-month scoring funk by jamming the puck in just 38 seconds into overtime to give the Kings the victory. Quick made 22 saves to get the shutout.
By the time Phoenix and L.A. met for the fifth time this season, both teams were fully engorged in the hectic chase for a postseason berth. Although the season still had well more than a month to go, each side played with remarkable intensity as they jockeyed for position in the standings. The first period alone featured 40 penalty minutes highlighted when team captains Brown and Shane Doan dropped the gloves less than five minutes in.
With so many penalties, it makes sense that a power-play goal should be the game-winner, and it came off the stick of Vrbata at 15:59 of the second period. Vrbata's tally would be the only score of the game in yet another goaltending battle between Smith and Quick. This time it was Smith who wound up on the long side of the ledger with 28 saves for his only shutout against the Kings in the regular season. The win also lifted the Coyotes past the Kings for seventh place in the Western Conference.
The Kings and Coyotes played for the last time just five days later in a game that was wildly unlike any other they had played all season. Smith had been rock solid against the Kings in nearly all of his previous starts, but on this night he struggled and struggled early, giving up first-period goals to Doughty, Andrei Loktionov and Brown to put Phoenix in a 3-0 hole at the first intermission. The Coyotes battled back in the second with goals from Vrbata and Doan in the first 5:26 of the period, and while Justin Williams would give the Kings a 4-2 edge moments later, Doan's second score of the game pulled Phoenix within one before the second intermission.
L.A. locked down on defense for most of the third, but going into the game, the Coyotes were one of the hottest teams in the League, having picked up 15 points in their previous eight games. Sometimes teams that are on a roll find ways to seize the momentum, and Phoenix found a way to do it when Vrbata tied the game with his 30th of the season with just 2:27 to go in regulation. After a scoreless overtime, Mikkel Boedker beat Quick in the final round of the shootout and Smith came up with the stop against the since-traded Jack Johnson to give the Coyotes a 5-4 win.
Fittingly, in a season series that has been, and a postseason series that is likely to be dominated by its two starting goaltenders, Quick and Smith each finished with 25 saves on 29 shots in their final meeting of the regular season.