Romping Kings Clearly L.A.’s Hope

By HOWARD BERGER

LOS ANGELES (May 18) – Oh, the money a sports fan in this city could have won had he or she wagered – in the second week of April – that the local hockey team would stick around longer than either of the local basketball clubs. It would have had nothing to do with the Los Angeles Lakers or Clippers being favored to win the NBA championship; neither club had such-realistic expectation. But, the Los Angeles Kings tearing a swath through the NHL en route to the Stanley Cup final? That possibility wouldn’t have come upon even the most imaginative script-writer in nearby Hollywood.

Proving, once again, that fantasy and reality aren’t often related – particularly in the motion-picture capital of the world – the hockey denizens of SoCal are almost certain to have Staples Center all to their lonesome as early as Sunday night. And, what a relief that’ll be for workers at the arena who face five games in 48 hours beginning Friday at 10:30 p.m. EDT when the Lakers host Oklahoma City in Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference semifinals. That will be followed – at 3:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday – by Game 3 of the San Antonio-L.A. Clippers Western semi; then at 10:30, by Game 4 of the Lakers and Thunder. Sunday is a bit of a dice-roll. Though Staples Center abhors the notion of hockey preceding basketball (fearing a marathon overtime match), the Kings will try to finish off the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Western Conference final at 3:00 p.m. EDT before the Clippers and Spurs square off in Game 4 of their NBA series at 10:30.

Did you get all of that?

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES – SHOWN HERE AT 5 P.M. YESTERDAY – COULD HAVE HOCKEY ALL TO ITSELF BY SUNDAY NIGHT, AS THE KINGS CONTINUE TO ROMP.

Here’s why it seems the Kings will be standing alone at this time next week: A workmanlike 2-1 victory over Phoenix last night gave the Cinderella club a 3-0 stranglehold on the West final. One more triumph and Kings are in the Stanley Cup final for the second time in franchise history (L.A. lost to Montreal in the 1993 championship). Both the Lakers and Clippers are down, 2-0, in their basketball series. Lakers were embarrassed by 29 points in the first game at Oklahoma City and recovered to fall by only two in the second match (as if the margin of defeat matters). The Clippers were trounced in both games at San Antonio: by 16 and 17 points.

LOS ANGELES TEAMS IN TROUBLE…

The Kings, meanwhile, are threatening to become the greatest playoff team in modern Stanley Cup history. Superlatives are running short among those, like yours truly, that have had the privilege of attending all 12 of the club’s post-season games – 11 of which the Kings have won, including a team-record eight consecutively. While edging the Coyotes last night, Los Angeles became only the third NHL team to craft 3-0 leads in each of the first three playoff rounds – joining the 1995 Detroit Red Wings and 2008 Pittsburgh Penguins. Interestingly, neither club won the Stanley Cup: Detroit getting swept by New Jersey in the ’95 final; Pittsburgh losing in six to the Red Wings 13 years later. Since 1980, only two other teams have won 11 of their first 12 playoff matches: the ’95 Wings and the 1983 Edmonton Oilers – also a loser in the Cup final, to the Islanders.

LOS ANGELES TEAM LOOKING GOOD…

So, nothing is in the cards for the 2012 Kings, in spite of a remarkable performance to this stage of the Stanley Cup tournament. Phoenix played its best hockey of the series in the opening period last night, but didn’t score. By the time the Coyotes broke on top – Daymond Langkow beating Jonathan Quick at 1:03 of the middle frame – the Kings had shaken the cow-webs and quickly tied the match, 2:07 later, on Anze Kopitar’s fifth goal of the playoffs.

The winning marker came early in the third and was scored by the “Rudy” of this year’s playoffs – forward Dwight King – who buried his fifth of the post-season, equaling his total in 27 games of the regular schedule… a story that would have also eluded any script-writer in this region of the world.

My photo-review, now, of game 3 at the Staples Center:

THE KINGS ARE FINALLY GETTING SOME NATIONAL ATTENTION: A BANNER-THROW ON FRONT PAGE OF YESTERDAY’S USA TODAY LEAD TO A COVER STORY IN THE SPORTS SECTION.

YES, I DID MANAGE TO TEAR MYSELF AWAY FROM THE AIRPORT-VIEW BALCONY AT MY HOTEL IN TIME TO DRIVE DOWNTOWN FOR LAST NIGHT’S GAME… BUT IT WASN’T EASY.

NOW, THERE HAS TO BE A REASON THE HIGHWAY LEADING AWAY FROM L-A-X IS NAMED AFTER GLENN ANDERSON… I’VE GOT TO THINK IT HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH THAT DUMB BOARDING PENALTY THE LEAFS WINGER TOOK LATE IN GAME 6 OF THE 1993 CONFERENCE FINAL AGAINST L.A. AT THE FORUM THAT ENABLED HIS EX-EDMONTON TEAMMATE, WAYNE GRETZKY, TO WIN THE MATCH IN OVERTIME AND DENY TORONTO A STANLEY CUP SHOWDOWN WITH MONTREAL. OR, MAYBE I’M WRONG.

TRAFFIC ON THE EASTBOUND IMPERIAL HIGHWAY WAS BRUTAL (ABOVE) NEAR THE AIRPORT.

APPROACHING DOWNTOWN L.A. ON THE NORTHBOUND HARBOR FREEWAY (ABOVE AND BELOW) WAS QUITE A SIGHT ON A SUNNY, LATE-AFTERNOON.

IT WAS TYPICALLY FESTIVE IN FRONT OF STAPLES CENTER (ABOVE AND BELOW) AS FANS MADE THEIR WAY INTO THE BUILDING FOR GAME 3 – A 6 P.M. LOCAL START.

THE LIGHTS DIMMED AND THE PRE-GAME LASER SHOW BEGAN, AS FANS GREETED THEIR RAMPAGING HOCKEY HEROES WITH A DEAFENING ROAR.

TEAMS LINED UP (ABOVE) FOR THE NATIONAL ANTHEM (BELOW),

REFEREE DAN O’HALLORAN MOVED IN TO DROP THE PUCK (ABOVE) BETWEEN DAYMOND LANGKOW OF PHOENIX AND ANZE KOPITAR OF THE KINGS.

COYOTES CARRIED MUCH OF THE PLAY IN THE EARLY GOING, BUT MIKE SMITH WAS TYPICALLY BUSY AT THE OPPOSITE END – HE AND JONATHAN QUICK EMERGING UNSCATHED FROM THE OPENING 20 MINUTES.

LAST NIGHT’S GAME DIDN’T HAVE QUITE AS MANY “BOARD” MEETINGS AS IN GLENDALE ON TUESDAY, BUT THE PLAYERS SAID HELLO NOW AND THEN (ABOVE).

MIKE SMITH TAKES A SWIG FROM THE GATORADE BOTTLE (ABOVE) DURING A TV BREAK AS THE CAPACITY CROWD LOOKS ON (BELOW), WONDERING WHICH TEAM WILL BREAK THE ICE.

IT WAS A MUCH-BETTER OPENING PERIOD FOR THE COYOTES ON THE SHOT-CLOCK (ABOVE), BUT THE ONLY NUMBERS THAT MATTERED WERE STILL EVEN.

FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE SERIES, L.A. YIELDED THE OPENING GOAL – DAYMOND LANGKOW BEING MOBBED BY TEAMMATES (ABOVE) AFTER BEATING JONATHAN QUICK EARLY IN THE SECOND PERIOD.

BUT, BEFORE PHOENIX FANS COULD SAY “WAY TO GO, COYOTES!”, THE KINGS ANSWERED (ABOVE) WHEN ANZE KOPITAR SWEPT THE PUCK PAST A SPRAWLING SMITH, WHO WAS BATHED IN A RED SPOTLIGHT SECONDS LATER… THE SCOREBOARD ABOVE CENTER-ICE FLASHING THE NEWS (BELOW).

MIKE SMITH SPENT A LOT OF TIME AT THE BENCH… HE WAS BOOED MERCILESSLY BY THE CROWD WHEN ACCOMPANIED BY DAN O’HALLORAN (ABOVE) TO HAVE HIS SKATE WORKED ON FOR THE SECOND CONSECUTIVE GAME. HE THEN WIPED AWAY THE PERSPIRATION (BELOW) IN A TV TIME-OUT MINUTES LATER.

KINGS WHEEL UP ICE (ABOVE) ON A SECOND-PERIOD POWERPLAY.

THE PACIFIC DIVISION RIVALS GOT MORE ACQUAINTED WITH ONE ANOTHER DURING THE SECOND PERIOD (ABOVE), BUT TEMPERS REMAINED IN CHECK.

DREW DOUGHTY HAD ANOTHER SOLID GAME FOR THE KINGS – KEEPING AN EYE ON MIKKEL BOEDKER (ABOVE) AND COVERING SHANE DOAN (BELOW) BEHIND THE NET.

DOAN SAYS SOMETHING TO LANGKOW (ABOVE) AS RADIM VRBATA (17), ANTOINE VERMETTE (50) AND BOEDKER LOOK ON FROM THE VISITORS’ BENCH.

THE SECOND PERIOD COULDN’T HAVE ENDED (ABOVE) MORE EVENLY.

INTERMISSION DARKNESS (ABOVE) LED TO THE FACE-OFF (BELOW) AT START OF THIRD PERIOD – ANZE KOPITAR AND BOYD GORDON DOING THE HONORS.

THE REMARKABLE DWIGHT KING SCORED HIS FIFTH OF THE PLAYOFFS (ABOVE) TO GIVE LOS ANGELES THE LEAD AT 1:47 OF THE FINAL FRAME.

IT WAS ANOTHER RABID AUDIENCE IN STAPLES CENTER AND WE EVEN SPOTTED AN OLD FELIX POTVIN L.A. KINGS JERSEY (BELOW) IN THE EXPENSIVE PEWS.

THE KINGS CROWDED SMITH AND CAME CLOSE SEVERAL TIMES TO WIDENING THEIR LEAD (ABOVE). DURING A BREAK (BELOW), THE PHOENIX GOALIE AND HIS BACK-UP – JASON LaBARBERA – GAZED HEAVENWARD AS OLIVER EKMAN-LARSSON LEANED OVER THE BOARDS.

BOYD GORDON BATTLED JUSTIN WILLIAMS FOR PUCK (ABOVE) BETWEEN THE TEAM BENCHES IN THE LATTER HALF OF THE THIRD PERIOD.

EKMAN-LARSSON TOOK A DREADFUL RETALIATION PENALTY (ABOVE) – GOING OFF FOR CROSS-CHECKING WITH 6:38 LEFT, TO DELIGHT OF THE CROWD.

THERE WAS LOTS OF EXCITEMENT IN THE STANDS (ABOVE AND BELOW) AS THE TEAMS GATHERED FOR A FINAL TV BREAK IN THE WANING MINUTES OF REGULATION.

FANS ARE ON THEIR FEET FOR A FACE-OFF IN THE FINAL MINUTE (ABOVE) AND ARE COUNTING DOWN THE LAST SECONDS OF GAME 3 (BELOW).

THE FINAL BUZZER (ABOVE) AND A FAMILIAR SCENE, AS THE KINGS POUR OFF THEIR BENCH TO CELEBRATE THEIR 11th VICTORY IN 12 PLAYOFF GAMES THIS SPRING, AND THEIR EIGHTH WIN IN A ROW.

JUBILANT L.A. PLAYERS LEAVE THE ICE (ABOVE) AND DWIGHT KING IS INTERVIEWED ON TSN BY RINK REPORTER RYAN RISHAUG OF EDMONTON.

STAPLES CENTER CLEARED OUT – QUICKLY AND HAPPILY.

ONCE AGAIN, THE PARTY WAS ON OUTSIDE THE ARENA.

Email: howardLberger@gmail.com

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