In one of the most unlikeliest Western Conference finals in recent memory, the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings will face the third-seeded Phoenix Coyotes for a spot in the 2012 Stanley Cup finals.
Here’s a look at the first-ever playoff meeting between the two clubs and the first time in history two Pacific Division teams have played for the conference championship.
Three storylines to follow
1. The goaltending. Early punditry figures this series will be decided in net, where Jonathan Quick and Mike Smith have been their teams’ MVPs thus far (and two of the leading Conn Smythe candidates as well.) Being Pacific Division rivals, the two have faced off numerous times this season, reflected in their statistics:
Quick vs. Phoenix: 3-1-2, 9.32 save percentage, 1.79 GAA, two shutouts
Smith vs. L.A.: 3-1-1, .938 save percentage, 1.76 GAA, one shutout.
2. The rivalry. A full season of scrapping in the airtight Pacific resulted in these two disliking each other a great deal. Most of the malice stems from a Feb. 16 game in Los Angeles that featured the following chain of events:
– Dustin Brown taking out Rostislav Klesla with a high hit (Klesla missed 10 games as a result.)
3. The travel. “I think it’s pretty obvious that Phoenix would definitely be the better team from a travel standpoint,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said prior to the Coyotes’ defeating Nashville. “Being an hour flight or less there and back — that’s the only obvious advantage to Phoenix.”
While last year’s Western Conference final between Vancouver and San Jose was a booking agent’s dream — the two cities are a two-hour flight apart and share a time zone — it hasn’t always been that way:
2010: Chicago and San Jose (1835 miles apart)
2008: Detroit and Dallas (998 miles apart)
2007: Anaheim and Detroit (1968 miles apart)
It’s roughly 350 miles between Los Angeles and Phoenix.
And then another 10 to Glendale.
Records (reg. season)
No. 3 Phoenix: 42-27-13, 97 points (1st in Pacific) | No. 8 LA: 40-27-15, 95 points (3rd in Pacific)
Leading playoff scorers
Phoenix: Mike Smith (8-3, 1.77 GAA) | LA: Jonathan Quick (8-1, 1.55 GAA)
Oct. 20: Los Angeles 2, at Phoenix 0
Oct. 29: at Phoenix 3, Los Angeles 2, SO
Dec. 26: at Los Angeles 4, Phoenix 3
Jan. 5: at Los Angeles 1, Phoenix 0, OT
Feb. 16: Phoenix 1, at Los Angeles 0
Feb. 21: at Phoenix 5, Los Angeles 4, SO
Phoenix: Def. Chicago 4-2 (WC quarters), def. Nashville 4-1 (WC semis) | LA: Def. Vancouver 4-1 (WC quarters), def. St. Louis 4-0 (WC semis)
Phoenix: Lost to Detroit 4-0 (WC quarters) | L.A.: Lost to San Jose 4-2 (WC quarters)
Phoenix: None | Los Angeles: None
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