If it was just a matter of time before the Los Angeles Kings lost just their second game of the 2012 NHL playoffs, and that time came Sunday afternoon thanks to Shane Doan and Mike Smith.
The Phoenix Coyotes rode their captain and their star goalie to stave off elimination and send the Western Conference Final back to Phoenix for Game 5. The effort was familiar from both squads -- including the Coyotes' nearly crippling lack of discipline -- but a series that has seen multiple close games finally produced one that went the Coyotes' way.
Doan provided the offense with both goals in the 2-0 win; Smith notched his fourth shutout of this postseason.
To a man, the Kings credited the Coyotes for their effort.
"They had a really strong forecheck," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said in the post-game. "To be honest, it was nothing to do with ours, it was theirs. I think we had some guys who had trouble adjusting to the pace of how they played."
That may be, but the previous game also saw the Coyotes forecheck lead the way in the early going before the Kings wrested back control. The difference Sunday was that the Coyotes were able to string two goals together and build a lead big enough to defend. (The only time the Coyotes led earlier in the season, Game 3, lasted all of two minutes.)
And that's just as well for L.A. As they have every game of the series, the Kings heavily outshot the Coyotes, 36-21 overall and 27-19 at even strength. But even with the Kings controlling the majority of five-on-five play and being handed six powerplays, the nature of the playoffs is that the result of close games is still subject to chance. With two goals on opportunistic plays, Doan made the most of that chance.
The Kings, still up 3-1 in the series and having lost for only the second time in 13 playoff games, won't be concerned.
"All the sudden you're not gonna stop forechecking because you won a game or because you lost a game," Sutter continued. "It really has no bearing on anything, right? Both teams have an identity and they played to their identity. Then it's a close game -- that's what it was tonight. They scored a goal on a goalie rim, a soft play out of the corner, and they scored on a faceoff, right? Their captain took charge of the game."
Indeed, one of Doan's goals was off a faceoff, the other was on a clever backhand in tight that Jonathan Quick normally stops. Meanwhile, the Kings' power play didn't take the best shots available and was slowed by stubborn shot blocking. But the Kings have to know if they keep playing their game -- as they have in machine-like fashion over the past six weeks -- then a Stanley Cup Final appearance will be theirs.
The way the Kings are playing even in defeat, it's just a matter of time.