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Kings beat Coyotes 2-1 to take 3-0 series lead

by Corey Masisak
LOS ANGELES -- One night it's the top line. The next, it might be the goaltending. Another day might bring strong performances from the big trade acquisition or one of the role players.

The Los Angeles Kings are on some kind of roll right now, getting contributions from pivotal players and ancillary guys alike. The result is a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals, leaving them one win from their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 19 years.

Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown continued their torrid postseason on Thursday night, but the members of the third line took starring roles as the Kings defeated the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 at Staples Center to earn their eighth straight victory.

Phoenix scored first, but the Kings answered soon after and then dominated the third period to take a commanding lead in the series. Los Angeles can complete its second straight series sweep and reserve a place in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the days of Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille with a victory here Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).

"It's exciting, I think for everyone in here," Brown said of his team's roll. "There's a lot of guys that haven't experienced this and a lot of guys that have. The thing that's made us successful as a team is handling that success. We've put ourselves up 3-0 again. It's not only an opportunity but now a responsibility to prepare ourselves to have a good game."

The Coyotes have thrived by playing with a "nobody believes in us" mentality to make an unprecedented and unexpected run to the conference finals. But they have been overmatched for lengthy stretches during this series.

Several players and coach Dave Tippett said after the contest that this was their best effort of the three, but the Kings smothered them in the final 38 minutes and they needed great goaltending just to keep the scoreline from inflating in the final period.

"We know what we have to do. We have to win the next game," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. "I mean, that's all -- we have to play better and find a way to win the next one. ... We're disappointed we're down 3-0, but this is a pretty resilient group -- got to find a way to win the next game."

Dwight King put Los Angeles in front 1:47 into the final period, capping a great shift as the Kings' third line, led by center Jarret Stoll, had a huge night while causing havoc for the Coyotes' defense corps.

Stoll took the puck off Michael Stone's stick in the high slot and snapped a shot on net. Goaltender Mike Smith made the save, but the Coyotes couldn't recover. Trevor Lewis drew a delayed penalty, but King scored before the Coyotes could regain possession and earn a whistle. King collected the puck from Lewis and skated toward the slot. When no one from Phoenix came to mark him, King roofed a shot over Smith's glove from the right circle.

It was King's fourth goal in the past three games and fifth of the postseason. He had five goals in 27 regular-season games after being called up in February, though he scored 24 last season for Manchester of the American Hockey League.

"It's just moving our feet, getting in on forecheck, supporting each other well," Stoll said. "We communicate a lot on the bench, letting each other know where we are and what we expect of each other. We all bring something different to the table, but [King] is hot right now. He should shoot the puck all the time. His celebration was awesome -- couldn't wait to give him a hug."

After a scoreless first 20 minutes, the Coyotes took their first lead of the series 63 seconds into the middle period. Keith Yandle hit Daymond Langkow with an outlet pass that split the Los Angeles defense pairing of Willie Mitchell and Slava Voynov and sent the center in alone on goal. Langkow's shot trickled through goaltender Jonathan Quick's legs for his first tally of this year's playoffs -- and his first postseason goal since April 20, 2008.

Langkow had moved up in the lineup from the fourth line for this contest to replace the suspended Martin Hanzal, who was suspended for a game after a hit from behind on Brown late in third period of Game 2.

Phoenix had controlled the play early in the first period, but wasn't about to solve Quick until early in the second. Quick's shutout streak, which dated back to the second period of Game 1, was snapped at 102:58. He finished with 18 saves.

The Kings' first deficit since Game 1 of the second round against St. Louis lasted just 2:07. Just as they did several times against the Blues, the Kings answered a goal against with one of their own in short order.

Brown sent Kopitar on a breakaway with a long outlet pass, and the Slovenian center coolly slipped a backhander between Smith's legs at 3:10.

"It's obviously great to limit their momentum," King said. "It's great to see the guys capitalize when the opportunities come. We didn't have a great start and for [Kopitar] to get that goal and tie it up, that was great for our team."

It was Kopitar's fifth tally of the postseason and the sixth straight game in which he has recorded at least one point. Brown now has 15 points in this year's playoffs, the most of anyone still playing. He has 10 points in the past seven games.

Brown and Kopitar were great in Game 1. Jeff Carter had a hat trick in Game 2. The third line was Los Angeles' best in Game 3. Quick has allowed 10 goals in the past eight games -- just three in this series. Add it all up, and the Kings look downright regal after 11 wins in 12 playoff games.

The Coyotes had never reached the conference finals in the history of the franchise. They have two days to try to figure out how to slow the Los Angeles juggernaut and get this series back to Arizona.

"We'll take a couple days here and rest up," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "What do we got to lose? Might as well come and play as hard as we can. They say, ‘One game at a time.' We got nothing to lose. We might as well come and make sure we give a real honest evaluation of who we are and how we got here. It's as simple as that. Play as hard as we can, we'll see what happens."
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