By Dave Vest
GLENDALE -- The Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings will begin the 2012 Western Conference Finals tonight when they play Game 1 at Jobing.com Arena. The puck drops at 5 p.m. (Arizona time).
Phoenix, the third seed, is making its first appearance in the conference finals; LA, the eighth seed, hasn't gotten this far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1993.
"This is great for our franchise," Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said. "We're certainly not satisfied to just sit here today. We certainly expect to move further."
The Coyotes and Kings, who reside in the conference's Pacfic Division, played six times during the regular season. Each team won three games in the series, which featured five one-goal games. They last played on Feb. 21.
“I thought our games we played with them in the regular season were playoff-type games," Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle said. "There were a lot of fights, guys playing hard... So, it’s a good thing that we got matched up with them and are able to play them because it’s going to be a fun series.”
Goalie Mike Smith, who has allowed two or fewer goals in eight of his 11 playoff starts this season, will start for the Coyotes.
Center Antoine Vermette is leading the Coyotes in playoff scoring with five goals and four assists. His five goals are a career-high.
Coyotes defensemen have chipped in with 23 playoff points, including seven each from Yandle and Rostislav Klesla.
"I think we've gotten more confident playing with the puck," Smith said referring to the defense corps. "Early in the playoffs we didn't want it so much. We got it and got rid of it. I think as we got deeper in the playoffs our 'D' got more comfortable playing with it, playing with the puck, being more poised with it, and started to make a lot more plays with it."
The Coyotes will play minus defenseman Adrian Aucoin, who has two assists in 10 games during this postseason. Aucoin was injured during Game 5 of the conference semifinals vs. Nashville.
Photo by Getty Images.
The Kings raced through the first two rounds of the playoffs by winning eight of nine games vs. Vancouver and St. Louis, the top two seeds in the Western Conference, respectively.
Remarkably, LA has won its first five road games in these playoffs. The last team to do that was Tampa Bay in 2004.
"We still have that main defensive base that we focus on, but with the guys getting their confidence and learning their linemates, that's why we're putting more pucks in the net," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We all know in here that we can continue to keep going."
Goalie Jonathan Quick, who is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, has posted a 1.55 goals-against average and .949 save percentage thus far in the postseason.
Captain Dustin Brown, who ranked second in the NHL in hits this season with 293, is leading the charge with 11 points.
"They’re going to play hard," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "It’s a fun type of hockey to play, you enjoy it and I think our team enjoys that a lot. I think we’re comfortable playing that type of game, and obviously they’ve been very successful at doing it. And you look at what they’ve done to Vancouver and to St. Louis. They would’ve probably been a lot of people’s picks out of the West and LA did a good job of making it look almost easy at times."
► Click here to watch Saturday's press conference with Doan, Smith and Yandle.
Coyotes goalie Mike Smith has posted a 1.77 goals-against average and .948 save percentage in 11 playoff games this season.
Kings captain Dustin Brown leads the team with 11 playoff points (six goals, five assists) and a plus-9 rating.