GLENDALE, Ariz. – Struggling to find their stride in the opening game of a playoff series is nothing new for the Phoenix Coyotes.
Losing that game? That's new.
The Coyotes were outplayed early by Chicago in Game 1 in the first round and dominated late by Nashville in Game 1 of the second round, but used overtime goals by top-line forwards Martin Hanzal and Ray Whitney to win the game and enjoy the luxury of learning a lesson without losing. But the red-hot Los Angeles Kings made Phoenix pay for its skittish and sloppy effort with a 4-2 loss to open the Western Conference Final and the Coyotes are down in a series for the first time this postseason.
COYOTES VS. KINGS
Brown scores another game-winner
By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer Dustin Brown scored the winning goal Sunday night for the second straight game and third time in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as the Kings' captain has his team just three wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final. READ MORE ›
Goalie Mike Smith did his part with 44 saves, but it would be hard to find anyone else on the team that earned a passing grade on Sunday. For a team that needs everyone rowing in the same direction to get anywhere, the Coyotes were dead in the water in Game 1 as the Kings improved to 9-1 in the playoffs.
"We know that as a group, we don't have that one superstar, but as a group we're solid," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. "It's our strength when things go well, and it's our weakness when things go bad. That's fine. I'd rather it be that way. I enjoy playing on this team, I love it. I like the group of guys. I really think that we'll respond. To a man I think we'll be better."
Prior to Game 1, the Kings talked about using their size and their forecheck to put pressure on some of Phoenix's more inexperienced defensemen, forcing them to make quick decisions with the puck. They did just that.
Top defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson was a minus-3 in a game for the first time since Dec. 14 at Anaheim, and partner Rostislav Klesla also had his poorest game of the postseason. David Schlemko struggled in his 11 minutes on the ice and could be the odd-man out if veteran Adrian Aucoin is able to play Tuesday night in Game 2. Outside of a wild center-ice slap shot goal from Derek Morris in the first period, a Phoenix blue line that contributed 23 points and was a plus-15 combined in the first two rounds had no impact up the ice.
The 38-year-old Aucoin took part in a full practice Monday, a week after leaving the series-clinching win against Nashville with an undisclosed injury. "First full practice today with the group. So, [it's] a good sign. If he's available tomorrow or not, we'll revisit that tomorrow morning."
The Coyotes had all kinds of trouble handling the Kings' top line of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. Kopitar opened the scoring in the first period and Brown hammered home the game-winner in the third.
"They're a very good team. They work really hard, they compete hard and they battle," Phoenix center Boyd Gordon said. "If we come out there like we did in Game 1, we're going to be in big trouble. We have to clean up our game here quite a bit."
Phoenix coach Dave Tippett took issue with the 48 shots on goal and 90 shot attempts that were credited to Los Angeles, but not with the fact that his team gave up too many chances. He also pointed to Antoine Vermette's strong forecheck that led to Mikkel Boedker's goal late in the second period as a blueprint for what the Coyotes need to do.
"Everybody's going to work hard. It's what you do after you get there that matters," Tippett said. "We were around some battles. But once you get yourself into the battle, it's the next step: How are you going to win that battle? (Boedker's goal was) one of the few times we got in, separated somebody from the puck, had another guy there and had an opening.
"We need more opportunities like that or more situations where we put in the work and get results for it, rather than put in the work and don't finish the job."
In each of Phoenix's previous three postseason losses, they have responded with a win – twice via shutout. Phoenix winger Lauri Korpikoski said the Coyotes have a lot better game in them and it starts with stringing together strong and efficient shifts.
"They were all over us in the first. They were good," he said. "The good thing is, we can be a lot better and that was close to their best, I would think."