L.A. Kings, Sun Both Eclipsed Yesterday

By HOWARD BERGER

LOS ANGELES (May 21) – Game 4 of the Western Conference final was such a foregone conclusion in these parts that fear seemed to take hold just prior to the opening face-off. While riding the press elevator with Jim Fox – the clever center-iceman of the Los Angeles Kings in the 1980s; now the club’s TV analyst – I got a taste of an old pro’s instinct and savvy. “The one thing Phoenix still has is Mike Smith,” Jim told me with a wince. “In a situation like this, a good goalie can steal a game for his team.”

Voila!

Though Smith did not have to perform acrobatics during the matinee at Staples Center, he was solid enough to blank the Kings, 2-0, and slow – at least temporarily – the L.A. playoff express. Now, we’ll see what level of resilience the Kings have, as they tasted defeat yesterday for the first time in more than a month; their only prior loss in the 2012 Stanley Cup tournament back on April 18 in the opening round, when Vancouver similarly prevented Los Angeles from sweeping a series at home. The Canucks were eliminated at Rogers Centre two nights later on an overtime goal by Jarret Stoll and the Kings will try to repeat that scenario – while maintaining their perfect road record in these playoffs – when they face off against the Coyotes in Game 5 at Jobing.com Arena tomorrow night.

Phoenix captain Shane Doan was all over the ice – equally as critical to yesterday’s triumph as Smith. Doan scored both Coyotes goals and was a nuisance for L.A. netminder Jonathan Quick all afternoon. The Kings weren’t nearly as determined as they’ve been throughout their remarkable post-season surge, and many of the L.A. players rightly credited Phoenix for a timely and gutsy effort… and for being – without question – the better team. 

SHANE DOAN (19 ABOVE) SKATES AWAY AFTER YET ANOTHER VISIT TO THE CREASE OF LOS ANGELES GOALIE JONATHAN QUICK IN GAME 4. DOAN SCORED BOTH PHOENIX GOALS.

Even the sun appeared heart-broken after the Kings loss – missing a large chunk of its roundness while setting over the Pacific Ocean in the 7 o’clock hour. “The shadow of the moon swept across the globe from Hong Kong to the Texas Panhandle as a rare solar eclipse began Monday morning in Asia and traversed the Pacific,” reported CNN. It was an annular eclipse, which occurs when the moon passes between the earth and sun at its farthest point of orbit, blocking less than the entire star and leaving a “ring of fire” around the lunar shadow.

I watched the celestial phenomenon on my hotel balcony across from Los Angeles International Airport and was able to photograph the event thanks to the “filter” provided by a marine-layer of cloud that rolled in off the Pacific, as it always does when temperatures cool late in the day during pre-summer months here in SoCal. It was a spectacular sight, as you can imagine.

SHADOW OF THE MOON BLOCKS A PORTION OF THE SETTING SUN OVER LOS ANGELES LATE YESTERDAY DURING ANNULAR SOLAR ECLIPSE – THIS PHOTO TAKEN FROM MY HOTEL BALCONY ACROSS FROM L-A-X. MORE PHOTOS TOWARD THE END OF THIS BLOG.

Having to drive downtown for yesterday’s game engendered some anxiety, as the conclusion of a bicycle race in front of Staples Center prompted road closures near the arena and several days of warning from local authorities to “arrive early” for the Kings-Coyotes match. As so often happens in these situations, I didn’t encounter a bump. As urged, I left my airport hotel just after 9 a.m. and was in a parking lot three blocks north of Staples Center by 9:25 – not having endured a hint of traffic on the northbound Harbor Freeway or a moment’s delay finding a spot to leave my rental car.

A full review of the day, now, through the lens of my trusty Nikon:

STREETS AROUND THE STAPLES CENTER WERE BLOCKED OFF FOR THE CONCLUSION OF A BICYCLE RACE DOWNTOWN, BUT ARRIVING EARLY WAS NOT A PROBLEM.

HOCKEY FANS WERE URGED TO ARRIVE AT STAPLES CENTER BY 9 A.M., AND THE KINGS PROVIDED FREE DONUTS AND COFFEE FOR THOSE HAVING TO WAIT MORE THAN THREE HOURS FOR THE OPENING FACE-OFF. 

THE STATUE OF BOXING LEGEND OSCAR de La HOYA (ABOVE) WAS APPROPRIATELY ADORNED IN THE FRONT PLAZA OF STAPLES CENTER.

      

      

EMPTY STAPLES CENTER (ABOVE), MORE THAN TWO HOURS BEFORE GAME TIME.

THE GREAT BOB COLE (ABOVE) WAS ON HAND TO CALL THE GAME FOR CBC’s HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA, WHILE VETERAN KINGS’ RADIO VOICE NICK NICKSON (BELOW) WENT THROUGH HIS PRE-GAME PREPARATION NEXT DOOR.

THE FAMED FINALE OF THE LOS ANGELES-TORONTO 1993 STANLEY CUP SEMIFINAL (GAME 7 AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS) WAS SHOWN ON THE STAPLES CENTER VIDEO-BOARD (ABOVE) PRIOR TO YESTERDAY’S MATCH AND MORE THAN 6,000 FANS IN THE BUILDING AT THE TIME LET OUT A WHOOP – NEARLY 19 YEARS LATER – WHEN MIKE DONNELLY AND WAYNE GRETZKY SCORED QUICK GOALS LATE IN REGULATION TO ELIMINATE THE LEAFS AND SEND THE KINGS UP AGAINST MONTREAL IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND. 

KINGS AND COYOTES IN PRE-GAME WARM-UP YESTERDAY.

WONDER IF MIKE SMITH KNEW HOW WELL HE’D PERFORM AS HE RELAXED NEAR THE BOARDS IN FRONT OF THE COYOTES BENCH (ABOVE) HALF-AN-HOUR BEFORE THE GAME?

THE PRE-GAME LASER AND LIGHT SHOW HERE IN LOS ANGELES IS ALWAYS A TREAT.

EXCITED FANS (ABOVE) GIVE THEIR KINGS A ROUSING WELCOME.

PIA TOSCANO BELTS OUT HER TYPICALLY SPLENDID RENDITION OF THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER (ABOVE AND BELOW) AS SHE DOES PRIOR TO EVERY KINGS HOME GAME.

REFEREE CHRIS LEE SETS TO BEGIN YESTERDAY’S MATCH (ABOVE) BY DROPPING THE PUCK BETWEEN DAYMOND LANGKOW OF PHOENIX AND ANZE KOPITAR OF THE KINGS.

THE IMPENETRABLE ONE…

THE KINGS WENT TO WORK ON MIKE SMITH EARLY (ABOVE AND BELOW), BUT THE COYOTES NETMINDER HANDLED ALL FORAYS IN A TIMELY, CLUTCH PERFORMANCE.

THE DOAN FACTOR…

COYOTES CAPTAIN SHANE DOAN CAME CLOSE EARLY (ABOVE) AND THEN SCORED HIS FIRST GOAL OF THE AFTERNOON (BELOW) – ON THE POWERPLAY AT 14:19 OF THE OPENING PERIOD – TO PROVIDE THE VISITORS THE LONE TALLY THEY WOULD NEED.

DOAN MADE LIFE DIFFICULT FOR JONATHAN QUICK ALL AFFTERNOON>

INTENSITY OF THE PHOENIX CAPTAIN IS NOTICEABLE (ABOVE) AS HE WATCHES PLAY FROM THE BENCH MOMENTS BEFFORE A VIDEO-REVIEW DETERMINED HIS SHOT HAD SAILED UNDER THE CROSSBAR TO GIVE THE COYOTES A 2-0 LEAD AT 11:19 OF THE SECOND PERIOD – AS POINTED OUT (BELOW) BY REFEREE KELLY SUTHERLAND. 

AS YOU MIGHT IMAGINE, IT WAS UNUSUALLY QUIET IN STAPLES CENTER ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON – THE SELL-OUT CROWD (ABOVE), HOPING TO WITNESS A CONFERENCE FINAL SWEEP BY THE KINGS, LOOKING ON SOLEMNLY AS THE VISITORS CONTROLLED PLAY.

SMITH WAS BUSY AGAIN – BUT FLAWLESS – IN THE MIDDLE FRAME (ABOVE AND BELOW).

“JONATHAN, I LOVE YOU!” ANTOINE VERMETTE OF THE COYOTES APPEARS TO BE COZYING UP TO THE KINGS NETMINDER (ABOVE), BUT IS MERELY PROVIDING JONATHAN QUICK SOME MORE GRIEF… AND PREVENTING A MORE SERIOUS COLLISION. 

THE COYOTES WERE COOL AND CONFIDENT ON THEIR BENCH (ABOVE) WHILE THE EXPRESSIONS OF DARRYL SUTTER, DUSTIN PENNER, DUSTIN BROWN AND JEFF CARTER (BELOW) TOLD AN ALTOGETHER DIFFERENT STORY AS THE SECOND PERIOD ENDED WITH PHOENIX MAINTAINING A TWO-GOAL ADVANTAGE IN MUST-WIN GAME.

PRELUDE (ABOVE) TO THE THIRD-PERIOD FACE-OFF (BELOW) BETWEEN JARRET STOLL OF THE KINGS AND DAYMOND LANGKOW OF PHOENIX.

TEMPERS GREW SHORT IN THE FINAL FRAME (ABOVE) AS THE KINGS TRIED TO RATTLE SMITH AND CUT INTO THE COYOTES’ LEAD, BUT MARVELOUS MIKE WOULD NOT BE DETERRED.

SMARTLY, THE COYOTES DID NOT SIT ON THEIR LEAD AND SPENT LOTS OF TIME IN THE KINGS ZONE (ABOVE AND BELOW) DURING THE FINAL 20 MINUTES.

HOPE DIMINISHES IN THE CROWD.

ANZE KOPITAR HUNG AROUND THE PHOENIX NET BUT HAD NO LUCK SLICING INTO THE VISITORS’ TWO-GOAL ADVANTAGE IN THE THIRD PERIOD.

IT ISN’T OFTEN A REF GETS PICK-POCKETED IN THE MIDDLE OF A GAME (ABOVE), BUT JUSTIN WILLIAMS APPEARED TO BE LOOKING FOR LOOSE CHANGE IN KELLY SUTHERLAND’S PANTS (HE WAS ACTUALLY DEPOSITING A FALLEN STRAND OF TAPE FROM HIS STICK).

BODY-LANGUAGE LATE IN THE GAME OF THE COYOTES (ABOVE) AND KINGS (BELOW) REFLECTED THE AFTERNOON’S RESULT.

LATE-GAME VIEW (ABOVE) FROM PRESS ROW.

QUICK WATCHED FROM THE KINGS BENCH IN THE FINAL MINUTE OF REGULATION, BUT THE COYOTES HUNG ON FOR THE SHUT-OUT VICTORY (BELOW), FORCING GAME 5.

COYOTES HOWL…

JUBILANT PHOENIX PLAYERS MOB MIKE SMITH (ABOVE AND BELOW) AND CELEBRATE THEIR FIRST VICTORY OF THE STANLEY CUP WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL.

SCOTT OAKE OF HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA WAITS FOR SMITH TO JOIN HIM (ABOVE) AND THEN INTERVIEWS THE PHOENIX GOALIE (BELOW) LIVE ON NATIONAL TV, WHILE BRIAN ENGBLOM CHATS WITH SHANE DOAN ON THE COAST-TO-COAST NBC TELECAST. 

THE CROWD WAS URGED TO LEAVE THE BUILDING QUICKLY BY P.A. ANNOUNCER DAVID COURTNEY SO SET-UP COULD BEGIN (BELOW) FOR LAST NIGHT’S L.A. CLIPPERS-SAN ANTONIO NBA PLAYOFF GAME, WHICH TIPPED OFF AT 7:30 LOCAL TIME – 4 1/2 HOURS LATER. CLIPPERS WERE OUSTED IN A SWEEP BY THE SPURS.

COYOTES FANS CELEBRATE (ABOVE) AMID THE DISAPPOINTED LOCALS OUTSIDE STAPLES CENTER WHILE KINGS’ TV ANNOUNCERS JIM FOX AND BOB MILLER DO THEIR LIVE POST-GAME SHOW FROM A STAGE ON THE ARENA PLAZA.

FANS WALK TO THEIR CARS TOWARD THE “777” (OR PELLI) TOWER (BELOW) – THE 52-FLOOR OFFICE BUILDING OPENED IN 1991 AT 777 SOUTH FIGUEROA ST. IN DOWNTOWN L.A.

“RING OF FIRE” SOLAR ECLIPSE…

PHOTO-SEQUENCE OF SOLAR ECLIPSE TAKEN FROM MY AIRPORT-HOTEL BALCONY THROUGH “FILTER” OF MARINE CLOUD-LAYER BETWEEN 6:40 AND 7:25 LAST NIGHT, AS SUN SET OVER THE PACIFIC OCEAN:

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