24-6-3. That is the Los Angeles Kings record since trading Jack Johnson and a 1st round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jeff Carter. That is a Win % of .727, best in the NHL over that timeframe.
Now the Kings are 5 wins away from their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Tonight's game started a little shaky for LA, as Phoenix came out ready to meet the challenge and refusing to back down among unenviable circumstances. They outshot the Kings 11-7 in the 1st, with most of their shots coming below the faceoff dots.
Then a minute into the 2nd, Daymond Langkow scored after a beautiful outlet pass from Keith Yandle to put the Coyotes up for the first time in the series. An ominous sign at the time, since the Coyotes have won 79% of their games when scoring first under Dave Tippett's helmsmanship over the last 4 years.
The Kings soon answered back and were able to seize control thereafter and change the tide of the game.
With 16:58 remaining in the 2nd, Anze Kopitar was battling for possession in his own zone. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson was caught deep and winger Lauri Korpikoski was back at the blue line to cover. Kopitar, instinctually knew the optimal situation he found himself in as soon as the puck shook lose along the boards and began to roll onto his stick. He turned and sprinted while dishing the puck to Dustin Brown which caught Korpikoski out of position. Brown then fired a well timed rocket back to Kopitar who scored on a mesmerizing breakaway.
After that, you could almost sense that the Kings were going to be unbeatable. The Coyotes only managed 8 shots to the Kings 20 over the 2nd and 3rd periods.
As Dwight King put it, "Everybody is answering the challenge and being better...With the way we're going, we're tough to beat right now."
King himself potted the go-ahead goal in the third on a delayed penalty which proved to be the game winner. Although both teams' players and staff concurred after the game that this had been the Coyotes best effort, it was not enough. LA now has a chance to complete their 2nd straight sweep, and 3rd straight series victory over a Division winner.
Everything has seemed to magically fall into place since that trade on February 23, 2012. This is not to say that Carter himself is responsible for the turnaround, rather the move seemed to set a chain reaction through the line-up fixing many systemic problems. None more evident tonight than an aggressive forechecking Slava Voynov's effort late in the 3rd, when he had the puck stapled to his stick while dashing around Coyotes players as if they were pylons in a stickhandling competition. Voynov was in Manchester at the time of the trade, but his stellar play earlier in the season allowed LA to use Jack Johnson as the main chip in the blockbuster trade of the season.
The Kings proved again that they are just not some ordinary 8th seed trying to make some noise, they are an elite team with a single minded goal of winning a championship.
The Kings had a lot of solid contributions from various sources, but who do you think was the Kings best player tonight?
The Yotes put forward their best effort of the series, who impressed you the most tonight on their end?
Who is your leading candidate for the Conn Smythe so far?
Finally, the Kings are 2 victories short of matching their franchise best 13 playoff wins. Pretend the '12 Kings are playing the '93 Kings. Who wins a best of 7?
Dave Tippett's post game presser:
At about the 1:40 mark, Tippett starts to opine that the game has turned "dishonest" due to diving in what turns out to be a rather strange rant. He comes off as thoroughly demoralized throughout the press conference as you can tell that this loss was a tough one to swallow for the Coyotes.
And Darryl Sutter's reaction to the diving insinuation?
"I didn't see that. We didn't complain last game."