GLENDALE, Ariz. – It's been 12 years since Daymond Langkow has been to a conference final – back when the 23-year-old center was a key cog for the Philadelphia Flyers and supporting the Legion of Doom line of John LeClair, Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg.
Although the Flyers lost in seven games to the New Jersey Devils in the 2000 Eastern Conference final, Langkow naturally figured he'd have many more chances to reach a Stanley Cup Final. But in a career that's seen him go from Philly to Phoenix to Calgary and back to Phoenix, Langkow's teams failed to get out of the first round seven times and missed the playoffs completely in four others.
And when he was carried from the ice in Minnesota in the spring of 2010 after suffering a scary and severe injury – he was hit in the back of the neck by an Ian White slap shot while playing for Calgary – there was a very real possibility that he had run out of chances.
But Langkow came all the way back, returning to the Coyotes, playing 73 games and now has another shot in the conference final as Phoenix squares off with the Los Angeles Kings beginning Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN).
"In Philly, we had a chance to go all the way and it didn't work out," Langkow said. "But when you are a young guy, you're not looking that far ahead. You figure the next shot is right around the corner. Then the years go by and it doesn't happen. Now I'm getting to the later stages of my career; you only get so many chances and you definitely want to make the most of this one."
Even amid the pleasure of a deep playoff run, it has been another difficult and soul-searching season for Langkow, who spent almost an entire year rehabbing his neck injury and waived his no-trade clause for a new start in Phoenix. But one month into the season, tragedy struck.
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Vivian Langkow, a hockey mom who saw two of her sons – Daymond and goalie Scott – reach the NHL, died suddenly at the age of 54. Daymond took a three-week leave of absence from the team to be with his family, make the necessary arrangements and keep his family together. It is still an emotional subject that Langkow, a quiet and private person, chooses not to address.
Returning to the team on Nov. 27, he assisted on two goals in a 3-0 win against Dallas. Just being back in the dressing room eased some of the pain, but it was a different world.
"With the passing of my mom … it definitely set me back for a few months," Langkow said. "I don't think I was the same player. It was good to get back and be around the guys and get a normal routine going, or as normal as it can be."
There was another shakeup in February when the Coyotes acquired Antoine Vermette for Columbus to take over the second-line center spot that Langkow was holding. Instead of playing with close friend Shane Doan and getting power-play minutes, Langkow was getting less ice time, playing on the fourth line and killing penalties.
It hurt. It was hard to take. But Langkow not only accepted the assignment, he has teamed with wingers Kyle Chipchura and Gilbert Brule to give the Coyotes their most talented and effective checking line in years. Chipchura and Brule each scored in the series-clinching 4-0 win against Chicago in Game 6 of the first round, and the trio was very effective in the five-game triumph over Nashville in the conference semifinals.
Despite limited ice time, Langkow has five assists in the postseason and is part of a penalty-killing unit that has a 90 percent success rate.
"It's a testament to the type of player and person he is," Doan said. "If you talk to him, nothing has changed. He's the same guy. He'd love to be playing 20 minutes and on the power play, but it's not going to change his personality or his commitment to winning.
"So much has happened to him. That injury – not a knee of a shoulder, you break your neck! You lose your mom. And then you're asked to play a role you've never done in your career. Some players, you might think of changing their role, but they aren't capable, it won't work. Lanks has the mental toughness to do it and I admire him a lot for the way he's handled it."
Langkow is quick to point out "I don't really have a choice" and that staying involved in games when he was playing 8-10 minutes a night was tough. "But I'm playing with a couple of very good players and we've been energy line we need to be and chipped in offensively as well.
"And we're winning. That makes it easier. We've got a good thing going here. Winning playoff games and sharing in that … that's what you play for."
Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said looking at ice time is no way to measure Langkow's importance.
"He had a bigger role earlier in the year, and after we got Vermette his role and ice time diminished. But his importance didn't diminish," Tippett said. "When you have a chance to add a Vermette and more offensive upside (he leads Phoenix in scoring in the postseason) and move Langkow into an important spot and be a stabilizing force with Chipchura and Brule, we've become a better team.
The fast, deep Kings play four lines. But with Langkow anchoring Phoenix's energy line, the Coyotes have a hard-working, responsible trio that can match Los Angeles.
"That's going to be essential in this series," Tippett said. "We have the kind of depth we haven't had here before. That's a big reason why we're here."