LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17: Anze Kopitar #11 of the Los Angeles Kings scores a second period goal past goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Phoenix Coyotes in Game Three of the Western Conference Final during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on May 17, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Dominant play from Kings centers Anze Kopitar and Jarret Stoll -- oh, and Mike Richards too -- leaves opponents powerless to match lines or win the puck for long.
The Los Angeles Kings notched another close yet authoritative victory in the Western Conference Final Thursday night, but what else is new?
They're simply 11-1 in the playoffs, methodically mowing through the West's top three seeds, their best players again being their best players, the superb talents of goalie Jonathan Quick almost an afterthought as the rest of the team keeps the puck away.
In their 2-1 Game 3 victory, it was captain Dustin Brown making a fantastic pass behind the Phoenix Coyotes defense from his own blueline to spring Anze Kopitar -- who brilliantly kicked the puck up with his skate before making mince meat of Mike Smith with a deke. That goal tied it just minutes after the Coyotes grabbed their first lead of the series. If Daymond Langkow's opening goal was the Coyotes' best shot, the Kings answered it quickly and without mercy.
The rest ran according to a recurring script: The Kings received a timely goal from an unusual source who becomes more usual by the day -- Dwight King, sniping his fifth goal of the playoffs -- and controlled play to seal the victory and put the Coyotes in a deflating 3-0 series hole.
The first period surely was the Coyotes' best of the series, yet they only came out of it tied 0-0. Kings coach Darryl Sutter knows his team was a little lucky to escape the first unscathed.
"It takes all five guys to make [the forecheck] work," he said. "We weren't that good at it early on, and they were. We didn't get a chance to forecheck early. It's tough with their goalie because if you don't put pucks in the right area, he moves it so good."
Through two periods the teams were tied 1-1 and actually even in shots, 15 each, which set the stage for the Kings to put it away in the third. As in Game 2, discipline hurt the Coyotes: They headed to the box four times in the third period to sabotage their own efforts to mount a comeback.
In the end, as they have been throughout the playoffs, the Coyotes were badly outshot, the final difference ending up at 28-19. The Kings are just too much for them and may well prove too much for anyone in the league.
Reporters tried to get the notoriously dry Sutter to let his giddy "little kid inside" out to celebrate or to acknowledge his rolling team as a "team of destiny," but of course he had none of it. "I'm too old, been to lots of conference finals, only won once," he said. "The farther you go, the tougher it is to win games."
But Sutter did get unusually animated about the play of his centers, Kopitar and Jarret Stoll.
"When he's slotted right where he is, he's awesome," the coach said. "Strong, powerful in the tough areas. Him and Kopitar, outstanding."
And it's because of the dominant play of Kopitar -- still relatively unsung in NHL circles considering his immense talent -- and the suffocating play of Stoll that the Kings are in this driver's seat. True, it's a full-team effort, but when you can afford to have 2011-12 acquisitions and former Flyers stars Mike Richards and Jeff Carter be essentially third-line options (just over 12 minutes of even-strength ice time for them tonight, after Carter's hat trick in Game 2), you're living well.
The Kings, with opponents powerless to match their lines nor keep the puck for very long, are indeed living well.