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Los Angeles closing in on trip to Stanley Cup Final

by John Kreiser /

We could know one of the two participants in the Stanley Cup Final by the end of the weekend.

The Los Angeles Kings have a chance to lock up their first trip to the Final since 1993 by beating the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals before what's sure to be a raucous sellout crowd at the Staples Center. The Kings' 2-1 win in Game 3 gave them the opportunity to complete a second straight series sweep and become the first team ever to beat the first, second and third seeds in the conference on the way to the Final.

If they get there, the Kings will have to wait a bit to find out who they'll play.

The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils split the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden, meaning that the Devils own the home-ice edge going into Game 3 on Saturday afternoon in Newark. That series is guaranteed to go at least until next Wednesday, and could last until May 27.

Here are five things to keep in mind as the action unfolds this weekend:

1. The Rangers enter the weekend having outshot the Devils 53-48 through the first two games, even though the Devils have attempted 26 more shots (121-95). The reason: New York has blocked 42 shots and New Jersey has missed the target on another 31. The Devils have blocked 22 shots and the Rangers have missed the net 20 times.

2. The Devils, who set an NHL record during the regular season by killing 89.6 percent of opposing power-play chances, continue to struggle to kill penalties in the playoffs. The Rangers are 3-for-8 in the first two games, and the Devils have allowed 15 power-play goals on just 54 attempts in 14 games this spring; their 72.2 percent success rate on the PK is the worst of any team that made it past the first round.

3. Though the Rangers don't have any big-name scorers on the blue line, they've gotten 10 goals from their defensemen -- twice as many as any other team in the playoffs. Marc Staal and Anton Stralman enter the weekend leading all defensemen with three goals, and Dan Girardi -- best known for his abilities in his own zone -- is the only defenseman this spring to reach double figures in points (10).

4. Among the things the Kings have done brilliantly this spring is kill penalties. They negated the Coyotes' only power play in Game 3 and have killed off the last 29 power plays they've faced, dating to Game 5 of their opening-round series against Vancouver. L.A.'s penalty-killers have allowed three goals all spring -- and scored four while shorthanded.

5. One of the keys to the Kings' late-season surge was the recall of rookie forwards Dwight King and Jordan Nolan from Manchester of the AHL. King has become a sensation this spring, scoring five goals -- including four in the first three games of this series. In fact, the five goals he's scored in the playoffs match his total in 27 regular-season games with L.A. -- and the four he's scored in this series are one more than the Coyotes have scored as a team.

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