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Kings ready for goaltending duel with Coyotes

by Curtis Zupke

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Kings have made it a point not to look back at the regular season too much.

They came on strong late -- but even then, they came up short of their goal of winning the Pacific Division. The Phoenix Coyotes claimed the divisional crown by finishing two points ahead of L.A., forcing the Kings to start every Stanley Cup Playoffs series on the road.

Not that it has mattered -- the Kings are 5-0 away from L.A. thus far in the postseason. But at least one Kings player said Tuesday that they'll remember the Coyotes winning the division when the Western Conference Finals between the teams get under way.

"They kind of took something from us at the end of the season that we wanted to get," Jonathan Quick said. "We're going to go into their building with a chip on our shoulder because of it.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Goalie - PHX
RECORD: 8-3-2
GAA: 1.77 | SVP: 0.948
"Not that you really need any extra motivation at this time, but it was a little disappointing there at the end of the year -- the way we pulled it out those last two games. [But] they were able to win theirs and take something that we were working for all season to try to get."

Quick and Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith will be the focal points. Quick had a 1.79 goals-against average against the Coyotes while Smith had a 1.76 GAA against Los Angeles during the regular season. Quick leads the playoffs with a 1.55 GAA (minimum four games played) while Smith is third at 1.77. Quick and Smith rank first and second, respectively, in save percentage at .949 and .948.

"They're feeling really good about their goalie, and we're feeling really good about our goalie," Anze Kopitar said. "It's a matter of cracking their goaltender."

Smith handed the Kings a 1-0 loss at Staples Center on Feb. 16 in one of the few low points of the Kings under Darryl Sutter. They were blanked 1-0 against the Calgary Flames two nights later as their offensive challenges reared their head again. One week later L.A. traded for Jeff Carter and the offense began to perk up.

Having already faced Corey Schneider of the Vancouver Canucks and Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues, the Kings are prepared for nothing other than Smith's best.

"Both teams' goalies have been their best players," captain Dustin Brown said. "In saying that, it's our focus to make it hard on Mike."

Los Angeles went 3-1-2 against Phoenix this season, with three of the games going into overtime or a shootout. Each side registered a shutout. While the Kings knocked off the top two seeds in Vancouver and St. Louis, Phoenix eliminated the Detroit Red Wings and a Nashville Predators team that was all-in for a run to the Stanley Cup Final.

"They made it to the Western Conference Final for a reason," Colin Fraser said of Phoenix.

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Quick
Goalie - LAK
RECORD: 8-1-0
GAA: 1.55 | SVP: 0.949
L.A.'s semifinal series against St. Louis didn't have much neutral zone time. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock noted that the Kings were either in their zone or the Blues were in L.A.'s zone. This might have that same aspect to it.

"They've got a quick team," Quick said of the Coyotes. "I was watching their game last night and I feel like they got a lot of speed coming in on the rush. They always get four guys joining the rush, they always have the D jumping up. Guys like [Oliver] Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle – those guys are very skilled defensemen. They like jumping in on the rush. They're playing well. They're playing with a lot of confidence right now. Mike Smith is playing as well as anyone in the League right now in net, and it's going to be a challenge."

One good point in facing the Coyotes is that the travel is easier. Trips to Vancouver and St. Louis effected the Kings' practice time because they have either not held practice when leaving or not had one after coming back.

"That's huge," defenseman Drew Doughty said of facing Phoenix. "Just a quick hour flight. In the previous series we were flying a couple of days before just to get used to the time change. But now we can just do it the day before with an hour flight."

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