Phoenix, Ariz. For the first time since midway through the first round, the Los Angeles Kings faced a decent dose of adversity.
Leading 1-0 midway through the first period and thoroughly controlling the run of play, veteran Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris let loose a 99-foot slapshot from the red line that eluded Jonathan Quick to tie the game at one. Recalling playoff memories of Owen Nolan's neutral zone shot past Roman Turek and Nicklas Lidstrom's red line blast that got through Dan Cloutier, it could have been a pivotal moment early in a series against a Phoenix team that had been outshot in nine of 11 previous games this postseason yet had weathered through similar situations to reach the Western Conference Finals.
Instead, Dwight King scored the game's next goal on a two-on-one with Mike Richards to put Los Angeles up 2-1 in the second period. After Mikkel Boedker tied it late in the second, Dustin Brown netted the game-winner early in the third as the Kings escaped Game 1 with a 4-2 win at Jobing.com Arena on Sunday.
For a group that doesn't collectively have any previous playoff success to fall back on, Los Angeles is sure showing an awful lot of poise.
"That was probably the biggest game we've had so far in the playoffs with that much adversity against us," Jarret Stoll said. A tough goal, and then a little miscommunication behind our net with our goalie and our defense. Tough goal to give up. On the bench we were fine. On the ice we were fine. We kept pushing and pushing. We knew we were playing our game for the most part there, great shifts. We just kept staying positive. We all know on our team that wasn't going to beat us."
Previous Kings teams could have wilted under the weight such a discouraging goal, especially in a period in which they outshot the Coyotes 17-4. But under Darryl Sutter, every member of the roster is showing such a bought-in focus that even in the midst of the howls elicited by the game-tying goals and with the crowd still on its feet, every single player on Los Angeles' bench expected the outcome that they eventually earned.
"At this time of year, you've got to just stick with the game plan, execute, and things will fall into place if you work hard," Dustin Brown said. "It's one of those things where we've got to keep going with the type of offensive threats we had tonight. We had a lot of shots, a lot of traffic."
They also won their eighth consecutive playoff road game, dating back to last year. It's one win shy of the 1982 & 1983 New York Islanders' NHL-record of nine consecutive road wins spread across two playoff campaigns. Now 6-0 in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Kings will also attempt to equal the NHL record for most consecutive road victories in one playoff year, last accomplished when the Chicago Blackhawks won seven straight road games in Nashville, Vancouver and San Jose en route to the 2010 Stanley Cup.
Are the Kings clearly playing the best hockey in the postseason? Whereas 11 of 14 New York Rangers games have been decided by only one goal, Los Angeles hasn't been involved in a one-goal game since the first round, nor have they been held under three goals since then. They outscored the Presidents' Trophy-contending St. Louis Blues 15-6 last series and have now won six in a row overall their second six-game winning streak in as many months.
A familiar script helped etch the 1-0 series lead. While Los Angeles was held scoreless in four power play attempts and has recorded only one goal in its last 39 man advantages, their airtight penalty killing once again provided the difference Sunday. The Coyotes were held scoreless in five attempts as the Kings have now killed 24 consecutive power plays, dating back to Game 5 against Vancouver. Using "smart pressure", according to Stoll, they've outscored their opponents 4-3 while shorthanded this postseason.
"You can pressure all you want, if you're not smart with it and you got one guy going and you got two guys sitting back, gaps open up, lanes open up, a good power play can pick you apart," Stoll said. "We're all on the same page, moving together, pressuring together. If you get one extra guy in there, they're going to get a shot, a chance. As long as it's not a grade-A scoring chance, Quicky is going to save those all right."
Adjustments will be made before Tuesday's Game 2, and while the score was narrow Sunday night, expect the shots on goal and chances to be much more even. After his team had previously scraped several playoff wins together while getting outshot and outchanced, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett should be counted upon to tinker around in an effort to even out the Coyotes' performance.
"We weren't close in that game," Tippett said. We got beat in every facet of the game."