COYOTES REACH CONFERENCE FINALS – BRING ON THE KINGS

08May12

Forgive me for taking an entire day before writing about this matchup.  I had to wait to get back down to earth, since I’ve spent the past 24 hours floating in the clouds. 

You see I’m in new territory here.  The Coyotes moved to the valley of the sun in 1996.  Though I have been an avid fan of the team ever since they left Winnipeg, I have never been able to fully enjoy the playoffs.  The main reason is the Coyotes have never been able to get past the first round. 

This year, things are different.  Not only did they get out of the first round by upsetting the Chicago Blackhawks in six games, they won their second round matchup by beating the Nashville Predators in five games, propelling them into the Western Conference finals against their Pacific Division rival and arch enemy Los Angeles Kings. 

Okay, okay, maybe ‘arch enemy’ was a bit strong.  But anyone who remembers that fateful night in LA, back on February 16, 2012, knows that things will never be cordial again between these two teams.  (See “Hockey Fights – Why They Are Necessary”, 2/18/12.) 

Going into the playoffs this season, there were two teams that I did not want the Coyotes to run into.  One was Detroit, simply because they knocked us out of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, and I couldn’t bear to go through that again.  The other team was the St. Louis Blues, who seemed to have our number this year, with one exception – game #81 of the regular season. 

So when Nashville so graciously eliminated the Red Wings in the first round, I couldn’t wait to shake their hands.  Apparently the Coyotes couldn’t wait either, dispatching of the Predators in five games in round two before lining up to shake their hands. 

Meanwhile, the Kings were busy sweeping the Blues in four games, thereby eliminating the other feared team and setting up a fantastic Western Conference Final matchup between two teams that are nearly mirror images of each other. 

Neither team is known for putting up big scores, although both certainly have the manpower to do so. 

Both teams have very good goalies that have been known to stand on their heads to stop shots from hitting the back of the net. 

Both teams play tough, physical games with a focus on tenacious defense. 

Both teams have superb penalty killers. 

Both teams can win on the road. Phoenix is 4-1 in playoff road games, while LA is 5-0. 

And finally, both teams have been in the playoffs since early February.  That’s right, they both have been battling for playoff positions since they hit game #60 in the regular season.  While Vancouver and four teams from the Central Division all had playoff spots locked up early on, four teams from the Pacific Division were battling Calgary and Colorado for the final three spots. 

This battle went down to the very last game of the season, with Phoenix winning their last five games in a row to capture the division title and the number three seed.  LA dropped a game to San Jose in the season’s finale, landing them in the #8 spot.  In most sports, that position is the kiss of death.  Not hockey! 

LA proceeded to knock off the #1 and #2 teams in the west with relative ease.  Now they travel to Phoenix to begin their quest to knock off the #3 seed as well. 

Anyone that has enjoyed sports in the Phoenix area for any period of time knows that the fan’s favorite chant is “BEAT LA, BEAT LA”.  Suns fans have been saying it for four decades and D-Backs fans for two. 

But hockey fans have never really had the opportunity to join the party, until now.  Blackhawks and Predators fans will testify to the fact that the whiteout in Glendale is a frightful sight and an intimidating atmosphere for a visiting team.  Now we get to add “BEAT LA” to the mix! 

This is unchartered territory for Coyotes fans, but one that we are eagerly anticipating.  If the Eastern Conference would kindly wrap up their matches, we can get on with this show.  This matchup could be, and should be, one of the best series in the playoffs this year. 

So all I can say is – BRING IT ON!!

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