GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Coyotes are still ticked about Drew Doughty’s disputed overtime goal with three Kings standing in the crease in January. They are also none-too-happy about Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown’s hit on Rostislav Klesla that started a free-for-all in the first period a month later.
The Kings aren’t happy about blowing a 3-0 first-period lead in Glendale the last time these two teams met or losing twice to the Coyotes during Phoenix’s 11-0-1 run in February. Losing the Pacific Division title to Phoenix in the last week of the regular season still stings, as the Kings lost a home-and-home series to San Jose while the Coyotes won their last five games to tip-toe past, pushing Los Angeles all the way down to the eighth seed.
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You don’t play six times in the regular season without building up a healthy hatred and the Kings and Coyotes don’t need much of an excuse to battle. But this time the Western Conference title is on the line, so settling scores will run a distant second to a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.
"We’re not very far away from each other (geographically), and we play them six times a year. Obviously we don’t like them," Coyotes forward and postseason standout Mikkel Boedker said. "We’ve had some bad blood and some fights against them. It’s to be expected when you know each other that well.
"But it’s a fresh series and we can’t take dumb penalties and worry about things in the past. Right now it’s all about getting four wins and advancing."
Phoenix captain Shane Doan and his Los Angeles counterpart, Brown, tangled in one of three first-period fights that produced 40 penalty minutes in a 1-0 Phoenix win at Los Angeles in February. But on Wednesday, Doan was talking about how the Kings have gone 8-1 while bouncing the West’s top two seeds out of the playoffs – with Brown leading the way.
"As a fan, what they have done is pretty impressive," Doan said. "They probably have about four guys who are leaders for the Conn Smythe Trophy. You know they are going to play hard; it’s a fun type of hockey to play. We enjoy playing it and they have done a great job of almost making (eliminating the Canucks and Blues) look easy."
Vancouver and St. Louis are gone. So are Chicago, Detroit, Nashville and San Jose – leaving two Sun Belt teams with a chance to rewrite their hockey history.
"You always talk about how anything can happen in the playoffs," a smiling Doan said. "I don’t think two weeks before the playoffs started too many people were picking this. But we’re both here and we’re excited."
The Coyotes got Lauri Korpikoski back for the series-clinching Game 5 win against Nashville, and coach Dave Tippett expects defenseman Adrian Aucoin – who left that game with an injury – to be ready when the conference finals begin. Klesla will also be back after serving a one-game NHL suspension, leaving Raffi Torres (with 17 games remaining in his 25-game suspension) as the only player who won’t be ready for Game 1.
"Finishing the series against Nashville in five games was a real plus for us, it gives us time to heal up and get ready," general manager Don Maloney said. "Talking with Dave (Tippett) the last time he was in the conference finals with Dallas, they played quadruple overtime games and they were beat up. We’re in good shape and there are no excuses not to come out and put on a really good show."
Maloney said he has enjoyed watching Arizona jump on the bandwagon and catch Coyotes fever over the past four weeks. But the team remains focused on the task at hand -- and proved it by closing out Nashville in its first opportunity with a 2-1 win in Monday’s Game 5.
"In one sense everyone is so euphoric about winning a couple of rounds and all the franchise firsts that we’ve accomplished," Maloney said. "But you realize we haven’t done anything yet. This is only halfway to where we all hope to be. It only gets harder and more intense, but I feel like we’re in a good place to move forward.