GLENDALE -- Mike Smith is really good. Jonathan Quick is really good. In fact, they were two of the best goalies in the NHL this season – and they’re playing even better in the playoffs. So, for the sake of this blog, I’m just going to assume they both keep doing their thing and instead I’m going to focus on some other areas in which Phoenix can separate itself from Los Angeles in these Western Conference Finals…
Feed Off The Break
In the 2009-10 season, the Coyotes dropped the first game out of the Olympic breaK, then proceeded to rattle off nine straight wins. In 2010-11, they fell twice coming out of the All-Star break, then caught fire for eight consecutive victories. This year, they took it to a new level, losing to Anaheim after the All-Star Game before going on an 11-0-1 sprint through February. See a pattern here? Dave Tippett knows how to get the most out of his club when they’ve had some time off. Oh and look – the Coyotes just had six days between games! It’s obviously tougher in the playoffs, but the fact is Phoenix knows how to use a break to recover, ramp back up, and come out firing. And now wouldn’t be a bad time to go on another run.
Use The Whole Roster
|Photo by Norm Hall. |
The Coyotes have more depth than just about any team and it’s what has made them so strong this postseason. They’re like a good movie that just never lets up - think of them as The Godfather. Some teams stack their top two lines, but have nothing to fall back on after that. Think of those teams as The Godfather III. Then there are other teams that just can’t seem to get anything going. Think of them as that movie where Paul Walker and Jessica Alba fight Sharks and search for buried treasure. Take a wild guess which teams succeed in today’s NHL. Of course, just to make things interesting, the Kings have some impressive depth as well. We’ll put them on the level of The Godfather II.
Keep Them Chasing
Of the 16 clubs that made the postseason, Phoenix and Los Angeles have clearly been the two that have been in control most throughout the first two rounds. In fact, when Game 1 ends, one of these teams will be trailing a series for the first time in the 2012 playoffs. Tippett has been quite clear over the last few seasons that chasing the game is not a recipe for success. That’s especially true for teams facing the Coyotes. In the regular season, Phoenix was fourth in the NHL with a 33-4-6 record when scoring first. In the playoffs, the Desert Dogs have posted a 6-1 mark, best among the remaining contenders. And while chasing a game is tough, chasing an entire series is even tougher. Which is why Phoenix would like to hop in the driver’s seat for the third straight round.
Embrace The Underdog Role
Here’s a shocker: the Coyotes are considered the underdog in this series. Sure, they just knocked off a team that won the Stanley Cup two years ago and another that had its sights legitimately set on taking home the prize this time around. But the Kings are still the team that most are picking to win.
To be fair, LA has only lost one game in the playoffs up to this point, so it’s not as if the Coyotes are being disrespected. In fact, they’re getting a lot of recognition now and they seem to be the team that impartial fans across the country are starting to get behind. But they’re still considered the underdog here. And that’s perfect. People have made a habit of expecting this group to lose for a while now. And Phoenix has made a habit of proving them wrong.
Have Some Fun
|Photo by Getty Images. |
Ultimately, this is what it’s all about. But there’s a delicate balance here. Have too much fun and you’re watching the playoffs on your iPhone while golfing. But get too tense and you end up freaking your own goalie out and losing to the Boston Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. The teams that win are the teams that find the happy medium, and this is an area where the Coyotes are completely dialed in. This locker room was great even during the tough times. Now that they’re winning, the guys are joking around, yet coming together when it matters most.
Finding ways to keep the penalty kill rolling, outwork the Kings and cash in on any opportunities that happen to arise will also be vital in what should be a tightly contested and entertaining series. LA is dangerous, but they certainly aren’t going to intimidate a Phoenix club that’s already seen them six times this season and won three of those meetings. In other words, get ready for some memorable hockey.