GLENDALE – As he walked down the tunnel after Saturday's workout and headed for the dressing room, Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett yelled out the four words hockey fans in Arizona and Los Angeles have been thinking all week.
"Enough practice," Tippett said. "Let's play."
|Shane Doan and Daymond Langkow on Saturday. Photo by Norm Hall. |
Whatever momentum the Coyotes and Kings have built up over the first two rounds – neither team has trailed in a playoff series to this point – will be tested Sunday when the Western Conference final begins at Jobing.com Arena. Puck drops at 5 p.m. (Arizona time).
The Kings haven't played in a week since polishing off St. Louis in four straight games last Sunday at the Staples Center. The Coyotes have been hibernating for six days after taking out Nashville in Game 5 on Monday – the longest layoff they've had since the All-Star break in January, when they began their furious late-season push from 12th place to the postseason.
Since then? Both teams have had lots of time to rest and watch the Rangers and Capitals slug it out back East while facing lots of media questions and lots of running into teammates on the ice. A series that was already expected to be a physical battle between division rivals will have the added dimension of pent-up frustration and the joy of seeing someone in another uniform on the ice.
"Leading up to the All-Star Break, we had one of the toughest schedules I know I've ever been a part of," defenseman Keith Yandle said. "That break came at a perfect time. This break can work to our advantage, but we also have to recognize that we've had time off. We have to come out for the first five minutes, 10 minutes and get onboard and get back into the playoff adrenaline and energy out there."
For a franchise that has never been this far in the postseason and has a grand total of one Stanley Cup ring – Ray Whitney's – in the dressing room, the Coyotes seemed very loose on Saturday. Backup goalie Jason LaBarbera talked to reporters about the WWE belt the team awards in the room to the player of the game (see below). Whitney talked about wearing his ring once a year, in Las Vegas, where gaudy bling blends right in.
|Photo by Norm Hall |
Shane Doan, Mike Smith and Yandle represented the Coyotes at a post-practice news conference and spent as much time ribbing each other and themselves as analyzing the opponent.
When a reporter mentioned he looked up Smith's bio on Wikipedia, Smith shot back "How many came up?"
When asked the value of having another guy who has been around a long time in the 40-year-old Whitney, Doan quickly qualified "He's a lot older."
But playtime is over. The Kings arrived Saturday and skated in the late afternoon. They are healthy. The Coyotes will be without defenseman Adrian Aucoin, who skated for the first time this week on Saturday but has been ruled out of Game 1. The rest of the roster is ready.
"As you get closer, you get a little anxious," Tippett said. "We had a couple good days off. We had a hard practice day (on Thursday), where you could tell the guys after that were, OK, let's play now, enough of that hard practice stuff.' (Saturday) we basically used it as almost like a pregame skate."
He added, "Let's go home, get some good rest, show up tomorrow and get ready for Game 1."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Click here to watch a behind-the-scenes report on how the Coyotes reward their self-proclaimed No. 1 Star of the Game with a WWE belt.