The NHL’s Western Conference Finals matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes is one that few experts (if any) predicted.
The first game will open in the desert and should be this weekend, although a firm time and date has not been set. Early series odds have the Kings as solid 170 favorites and the Coyotes +150 underdogs.
Los Angeles finished with 95 regular season points, third in the Pacific Division and eighth in the conference. Offense was the big bugaboo at 2.29 goals per game (ranked 29th), but it is a more-than-respectable 3.00 in the playoffs (tied-for-third).
Note the ‘under’ is 5-2 in Los Angeles’ last seven games, with each total at five goals.
The upstart Kings have gotten the often bandwagon Southern California hockey fans to take notice by dispatching top-seed Vancouver and then second-seed St. Louis in a grand total of nine games.
Coach Darryl Sutter took over in December after Terry Murray was fired. He has seen his top two lines really come on lately, although still relying mostly on defense and the top-flight goaltending of Jonathan Quick. The team’s 1.56 GAA in the postseason is easily the best.
Sutter won’t mind opening on the road with a sparkling 5-0 away mark in the playoffs.
One caution mark is L.A. is a paltry 4-of-47 on the power play (8.5 percent). While the Bruins were able to win the Stanley Cup last year at 11.4 percent (10-of-88) with the extra man, it’s still a major disadvantage unless it gets rectified.
The Coyotes had 97 regular season points, giving them the Pacific Division crown and the West’s third seed despite having the sixth-most points. That gives them home ice this round.
Phoenix has also played two tough opponents in Chicago and Nashville, the former taking six games (the first five incredibly going into OT) and the latter five. This playoff run may have saved the franchise from relocating as a tentative sale has been reached that would keep the team in Arizona.
Coach Dave Tippett has done wonders amid all the distractions. He also relies on defense and the great goaltending of the underrated Mike Smith. The team is allowing 1.91 GAA in the playoffs and is scoring 2.64 goals per game, making L.A. slightly better statistically on both ends of the ice.
The ‘under’ is 7-3-1 for Phoenix this postseason, going 4-0 in the final four games against Chicago and 3-0 in the final three against Nashville. Smith and the defense got tougher as each series went on, so the Kings need to strike early or Phoenix will have great value at these series odds.
Phoenix and L.A. are very familiar with each other as division rivals, meeting six times during the regular season. They split 3-3 with the Coyotes taking the last two (both in February) and each home team going 2-1. Three of the games needed overtime or a shootout.
The ‘under’ was 3-2-1 in the six games, with the last five totals at five goals.