GLENDALE, Ariz. – Frustration is usually a friend to the Phoenix Coyotes. They have won a division title and pushed all the way to the their first Western Conference final by twisting more skilled teams inside-out with a combination of work ethic and maddening consistency.
But in two lopsided losses on home ice to the NHL's current version of a runaway train – the Los Angeles Kings – frustration has changed jerseys and pulled up a spot on the Phoenix bench. The Coyotes have been learning about life when another team imposes its will and has all pistons firing.
COYOTES VS. KINGS
Kings blank 'Yotes for 2-0 series lead
By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer The Los Angeles Kings tied three NHL records -- and more importantly got themselves halfway to the Stanley Cup Final with a 4-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 2 at Jobing.com Arena. READ MORE ›
After losing in decisive fashion, 4-0 to Kings in Game 2, the Coyotes were feeling themselves being dragged down the same fatal path that swallowed up Vancouver and St. Louis at the hands of the Kings before them. And the opportunistic team than confounded Chicago and Nashville in the first two rounds has seen its opportunities dry up and its momentum disappear.
Now, the Coyotes have lost back-to-back games for the first time in the postseason. They will be without center Martin Hanzal, who was suspended for one game for Tuesday's hit on Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown, the third Coyote suspended during this postseason.
Losing Hanzal, their No. 1 center and one of their most physical forwards, will hurt.
"He is a very valuable part of our team. A huge part," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said.
With Tuesday win, the Kings improved to 10-1 in the postseason and a perfect 7-0 on the road with a confidence level as high as the "Hollywood" sign atop the Santa Monica Mountains.
"We haven't played to our capabilities, but that frustration can't get the better of us," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "Sometimes people expect us to come out and dominate a game. That's not going to happen. We're a team that goes out and we hang around the game and we find a way to win. The frustration of not being able to do that in the first two games certainly was evident.
"We have to get back to playing the way we can, playing our style, and find a way to win."
Despite a better start, none of that happened in Game 2. And when the Coyotes couldn't get even, they got mad.
Down 2-0 late in the second period, Keith Yandle's retaliatory punch for a Brad Richardson jab earned him a penalty and seemed to light the wick of Phoenix's short fuse. Less than two minutes later, with a slashing by Daymond Langkow already pending, Doan earned a five-minute major to a boarding penalty on Trevor Lewis that ended his night.
The Coyotes weren't done expressing their feelings nonverbally. Goalie Mike Smith slashed Brown on the back of the leg. Derek Morris took a kneeing penalty. Finally, Hanzal put Brown into the boards from behind to earn the club's second ejection.
Doan and Morris were cleared of disciplinary action by the NHL on Wednesday. Smith's play wasn't reviewed. Doan, still upset that he was tossed in Game 2, said the Coyotes have to forget the past and focus on their chance to get back in the series, which now shifts to the Staples Center. Phoenix is 4-1 on the road in this postseason, with Smith posting two shutouts. Perhaps that mojo is still packed away somewhere?
"Confidence is an amazing thing. It piles on itself," Doan said. "So far everything's gone right in the playoffs for (the Kings). That's a credit to the way they've played and the way they've been coached.
Once it starts to roll, it seems easy. We have to find a way to get ours going."
In Game 1, the Coyotes couldn't handle Brown and Anze Kopitar, so they juggled their forward lines as a response. But while they slowed that line down in Game 2, Jeff Carter got loose for a hat trick and the Kings kept rolling. After the game, Smith wondered aloud if his teammates were prepared to settle for the conference final appearance.
"That's not the case," said Phoenix winger Radim Vrbata, a 35-goal scorer during the regular season who has just two in 13 playoff games. "It's nice to win Round 1, Round 2, but that's not what you play for. It's not like we are satisfied where we are. We want to play for the Stanley Cup, go to [the] finals. That's why you play."