The Valley of the Sun and Hollywood will provide the dazzling settings for the first Stanley Cup Conference Final to be played entirely in the American West when the Phoenix Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings clash in the 2012 Western Conference Final. What follows is a look at two teams that are geographic neighbors but took very different routes to this series:
WCF in the PDT: This is just the second all-Pacific Time Zone Conference Final, but it's the second straight (Vancouver-San Jose in 2011).
LA Cruisin': Despite facing the toughest possible combination of seeded opponents, the Kings required just nine games to get here – beating No. 1 Vancouver in five games and sweeping No. 2 St. Louis.
|Photo by Getty Images. |
Winning Coyote Ugly: Phoenix has gone to overtime in six of its 11 postseason games – including a record five in a row to begin its Conference Quarterfinal vs. Chicago. The Coyotes were outshot in all six games against Chicago and in three of five vs. Nashville.
The Stars are Out: Winning has brought out the glitterati in Los Angeles, where Tom Hanks, Matthew Perry, Alyssa Milano, Rachel McAdams, Kurt Russell, Kevin Connolly, Kobe Bryant, David Beckham and Landon Donovan have all shown up for games.
White Out: The tradition that followed the franchise from Winnipeg to Phoenix in 1996 endures – fans attend home playoff games dressed in white, creating remarkable visuals in person and for those tuning in.
Goaltending Duel: The Kings and Coyotes rank first and second, respectively, in goals-against average during the postseason, largely due to the play of their netminders – Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick and Phoenix's Mike Smith. Quick leads all remaining playoff goaltenders with a 1.55 goals-against average and .949 save percentage, while Smith ranks third with a 1.77 goals-against average and second with a .948 save percentage.
Blazing His Own Trail: Just the second native Slovenian ever to play in the NHL, Kings center Anze Kopitar left home at age 16 to play in Sweden, moving into an apartment by himself. He speaks five languages – Slovene, Serbian, German, Swedish and English.
Pancakes to Playoffs: Kings forward Dustin Penner missed a game on Jan. 7 after he threw out his back when leaning over the breakfast table to dig into a stack of pancakes. That might have been the low point of a season in which he scored just seven goals with 10 assists. Penner has been reborn in the playoffs, recording seven points and +7 rating in nine impactful games.
* The Coyotes are in the Conference Final for the first time in their 32-year franchise history (including time as the Winnipeg Jets). They won their first playoff series since moving to Phoenix when they defeated Chicago in the Conference Quarterfinals.
|Photo by Getty Images. |
* Goaltender Mike Smith has allowed two or fewer goals, including two shutouts, in eight of his 11 postseason starts. His 1.77 goals-against average ranks third and .948 save percentage ranks second among remaining playoff netminders.
* Captain Shane Doan experienced the winning side of the traditional handshake line for the first time in his 16-year NHL career when they Coyotes defeated the Blackhawks in the opening round. The Alberta native has played his whole career with the Coyotes/Jets franchise, going 1,242 games (regular season and playoffs) before winning a playoff series.
* Head Coach Dave Tippett has guided his teams to the playoffs in eight of his nine NHL seasons, including all three with the Coyotes. He has led Phoenix to its three-most successful seasons in franchise history (2009-10 through 2011-12) and owns the highest regular-season win percentage (.620) in franchise history.
* Center Antoine Vermette, who was acquired from Columbus on Feb. 22, leads the team in goals (five) and points (nine) during the playoffs.
* Veteran Ray Whitney netted his second career playoff overtime goal in Game 1 against Nashville, setting the record for the longest gap between postseason overtime goals. His first came on May 19, 1995 for San Jose in its Game 7 triumph against Calgary.
* The Kings are in the Conference Final for the first time since 1993 and for the second time in their 44-year history. They are the first #8 seed to have eliminated the #1 and #2 conference seeds under the League's current playoff format.
* The Kings went 25-13-11 under Darryl Sutter, who was hired as head coach on Dec. 20. The club did not suffer a regulation loss in his first eight games behind the bench (5-0-3).
* Kings captain Dustin Brown leads the NHL in plus-minus during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs (plus-9), with teammate Anze Kopitar (plus-8) one of three players tied for second place. Brown is the only player in the playoffs with more than 10 points (11) and at least 20 penalty minutes.
|Photo by Getty Images. |
* Jonathan Quick leads playoff goalies in goals against average (1.55) and save percentage (.949). He is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy after helping the Kings record the NHL's second-lowest goals-against average during the regular season (2.07) and posting a League-leading 10 shutouts.
* The Kings boast nine players who have played in the Stanley Cup Final: Jeff Carter (PHI in 2010), Colin Fraser (CHI in 2010), Simon Gagne (PHI in 2010), Matt Greene (EDM in 2006), Dustin Penner (ANA in 2007), Mike Richards (PHI in 2010), Rob Scuderi (PIT in 2008 and 2009), Jarret Stoll (EDM in 2006) and Justin Williams (CAR in 2006). Four of these players (Fraser, Penner, Scuderi, Williams) own Stanley Cup rings.
* The Kings power play has yet to click in the postseason (4-for-47, 8.5 percent) but their penalty killing has been brilliant (35-for-38, 92.1 percent). They have scored more goals than they have allowed while shorthanded (four SHG, three GA).