Undisputed Kings of the West

By HOWARD BERGER

GLENDALE, Ariz. (May 23) – Since April 11 of this spring, the Los Angeles Kings have been the best team in the National Hockey League – perhaps unexpectedly, but without debate. If that trend continues between May 30 and June 13, southern-California will celebrate its second Stanley Cup in six years; Anaheim having defeated Ottawa to win the 2007 championship.

Completing an unprecedented romp through the Western Conference, the Kings knocked off Phoenix, 4-3, early this morning on Dustin Penner’s goal at 17:42 of the first overtime period and will open the Stanley Cup final at either Madison Square Garden in New York or the Prudential Center in Newark one week from tonight. The Eastern final is deadlocked 2-2, with Game 5 between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils tonight in Manhattan at 8 o’clock EDT.

The survivor will encounter an upstart team that established an all-time record by winning its first eight post-season games on the road; the Kings – astoundingly – went undefeated on foreign ice through the Western playoffs.

DUSTIN BROWN WOULDN’T DARE TOUCH THE CLARENCE CAMPBELL BOWL AFTER THE KINGS WON THE WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP LAST NIGHT. BUT, HE DID TOUCH NHL DEPUTY COMMISSIONER BILL DALY – TWICE – SHAKING HANDS BEFORE AND AFTER THE PRESENTATION ON THE ICE AT JOBING.COM ARENA.

Penner’s goal wrapped up undoubtedly the most exciting match involving Los Angeles this spring – a see-saw affair played in an emotionally-charged Jobing.com Arena. The Kings flew off the bench and raced across the ice to mob Penner, who scored his third goal of the playoffs. Each club had survived an opposition powerplay in the extra frame and the mood inside the building deteriorated after a collision between Dustin Brown of L.A. and Michal Rozsival of the Coyotes inside the Kings blueline, moments before the game-winner. What looked like a knee-on-knee episode was, in fact, an awkward double-hit on the Phoenix defenseman but the partisan crowd considered it a flagrant violation and couldn’t believe that neither referee – Kevin Pollock nor Brad Watson – saw fit to penalize the Kings captain.

When Penner scored, many in the irate audience pelted the ice with debris as the arena P.A. announcer oddly warned that any-such behavior would result in “ejection from the building”. After a game?

MY VIEW FROM THE PRESS BOX AS KINGS AND COYOTES WRAP UP THEIR CEREMONIAL HAND-SHAKE MOMENTS AFTER LOS ANGELES WON THE FIVE-GAME SERIES IN OVERTIME.

L.A. is in the Stanley Cup final for the second time in franchise history – matching the feat of the 1993 Kings, who defeated Toronto in the Campbell Conference final and lost to Montreal in the championship round. The Kings and St. Louis Blues are the lone members of the six-team NHL expansion in 1967 not to win the Cup.

That could change… soon.

OVERTIME WINNING-GOAL SEQUENCE: IT OCCURRED SUDDENLY – AT 9:40 P.M. LOCAL TIME, 12:40 A.M. THIS MORNING IN THE EAST – AS DUSTIN PENNER SCORED THE SERIES-WINNING GOAL WITH 2:18 LEFT IN THE FIRST OVERTIME, SENDING LOS ANGELES TO THE STANLEY CUP FINAL. THE GOAL AND FOLLOW-UP CELEBRATION WERE CAPTURED WONDERFULLY BY PHOTOGRAPHERS AT ICE LEVEL FOR GETTY IMAGES AND POSTED ON NHL.COM…

NOW, THESE IMAGES FROM MY TRUSTY NIKON:

IT’S DIFFICULT TO DESCRIBE WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO WALK AROUND IN 112-DEGREE HEAT, BUT THAT’S WHAT THE MERCURY TOPPED OUT AT YESTERDAY HERE IN GLENDALE. 

FACES IN THE CROWD…

FANS, YOUNG AND OLD, GATHERED IN THE PLAZA ON THE NORTH SIDE OF JOBING.COM ARENA BEFORE LAST NIGHT’S HOCKEY GAME.

      

GAME ON…

PLAYERS AND OFFICIALS STAND FOR THE NATIONAL ANTHEM.

REFEREE BRAD WATSON CONDUCTS OPENING FACE-OFF (ABOVE) BETWEEN ANTOINE VERMETTE OF PHOENIX AND ANZE KOPITAR OF THE KINGS.

THE COYOTES WERE ALL OVER THE KINGS IN THE FIRST TEN MINUTES AND OPENED THE SCORING (ABOVE AND BELOW) ON A POWERPLAY GOAL BY TAYLOR PYATT AT 4:20.

MIKE SMITH WASN’T MUCH BUSIER THAN THIS IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE PERIOD, AS EVIDENCED BY THE LOP-SIDED SHOT-CLOCK ABOVE CENTER-ICE (BELOW).

PHOENIX MOMENTUM CAME TO A SCREECHING HALT WHEN KOPITAR SCORED SHORTHANDED AT 11:13 (BELOW) WITH BRAD RICHARDSON SERVING A BENCH-MINOR FOR TOO MANY MEN.

SHANE DOAN WAS HEAVILY INVOLVED ONCE AGAIN – BARRELING INTO THE LOS ANGELES NET BEHIND JONATHAN QUICK (ABOVE) AND GETTING AN EAR-FULL FROM FELLOW CAPTAIN DUSTIN BROWN (BELOW) PRIOR TO THE NEXT FACE-OFF.

THE FIRST PERIOD ENDED WITH BODIES SPRAWLED NEAR THE COYOTES NET.

THE GOALIES LIMBER UP (ABOVE) BEFORE FACE-OFF TO BEGIN SECOND PERIOD.

CARTER CAUSES HAVOC…

WHILE LAURI KORPIKOSKI SERVED A HOLDING PENALTY, JEFF CARTER GOT INTO MIKE SMITH’S GRILL AND CAME CLOSE TO SCORING. REFEREE WATSON CHECKED WITH THE PHOENIX NETMINDER (BELOW) AFTER IT APPEARED A SHOT HAD GONE OFF HIS MASK.

COYOTES TOOK THE LEAD AGAIN AT 6:23 OF THE SECOND PERIOD (ABOVE) ON A GOAL BY MARC-ANTOINE POULIOT AND THE CROWD EXULTED (BELOW).

COYOTES DEFENSEMAN OLIVER EKMAN-LARSSON GETS UP SLOWLY AFTER A GOAL-CREASE COLLISION (ABOVE AND BELOW) WITH JUSTIN WILLIAMS OF L.A.

DREW DOUGHTY KNOTTED THE BACK-AND-FORTH AFFAIR (ABOVE) WITH HIS SECOND GOAL OF THE PLAYOFFS AT 11:06 OF THE MIDDLE FRAME.

KINGS CONTROLLED PLAY LATE IN THE PERIOD AND TOOK THE LEAD FOR THE FIRST TIME (BELOW) ON MIKE RICHARDS’ GOAL FROM IN CLOSE AT 13:43.

AFTER MORE ACTION AROUND MIKE SMITH (ABOVE), PHOENIX WENT DOWN AND TIED THE MATCH (BELOW) WHEN DEFENSEMAN KEITH YANDLE BEAT QUICK AT 16:23 OF THE MIDDLE FRAME. IT WOULD BE THE LAST GOAL OF THE SEASON FOR THE COYOTES.

IS THAT AN OLD KINGS JERSEY (ABOVE)… OR A FAN’S CLEVER WAY OF ANNOUNCING HOW LONG THE MAPLE LEAFS HAVE BEEN ABSENT FROM THE PLAYOFFS?

CAN YOU BLAME “WAYNE GRETZKY” (ABOVE) FOR WANTING TO BEHAVE NEXT TO HIS DATE LAST NIGHT?

FANS SETTLE INTO THEIR SEATS (ABOVE) FOR START OF THE THIRD PERIOD (BELOW).

QUICK HAD TO BE SHARP (ABOVE) ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS, AS THE COYOTES PORED IT ON. DOUGHTY WAS FORTUNATE TO ESCAPE A PENALTY FOR HIS HIT (BELOW) ON KYLE CHIPCHURA OF PHOENIX.

SHANE DOAN WATCHED FROM THE COYOTES BENCH SITTING NEXT TO ANTOINE VERMETTE IN THE FINAL MINUTE OF REGULATION TIME.

COYOTES DEFENSEMAN DEREK MORRIS INADVERTENTLY SHOT THE PUCK OVER THE GLASS WITH 26.1 SECOND REMAINING IN THE THIRD PERIOD – PROVIDING LOS ANGELES A POWERPLAY THAT CARRIED INTO OVERTIME (BELOW).

THE CROWD GASPED AS THE PUCK SQUIRTED LOOSE IN FRONT OF A PRONE SMITH (ABOVE) TOWARD THE END OF THE KINGS POWERPLAY.

ODDLY, THERE WERE A NUMBER OF VACATED SEATS AT EITHER END OF THE ARENA DURING THE SUDDEN-DEATH PERIOD – FANS PREFERRING TO GET HOME EARLY.

HAD THIS BEEN A REGULAR-SEASON GAME, DOUGHTY WOULD HAVE RECEIVED AN EXTRA MINOR FOR UNSPORTSMANLIKE-CONDUCT AFTER THE TANTRUM HE THREW UPON BEING CALLED FOR INTERFERENCE IN OVERTIME. THE COYOTES CAME CLOSE TO WINNING THE GAME ON ONE OCCASION (ABOVE) WHILE PLAYING WITH THE EXTRA MAN.

PLAY CARRIES ON (ABOVE) LATE INTO THE FIRST OVERTIME.

MICHAL ROZSIVAL IS ASSISTED BY COYOTES’ TRAINER (ABOVE) AND THEN HELPED OFF THE ICE AFTER HIS COLLISION WITH DUSTIN BROWN OF L.A.

JUBILANT KINGS POUR OFF THE BENCH AND RACE ACROSS ICE (ABOVE) TO MOB DUSTIN PENNER AFTER HIS SERIES-WINNING GOAL, WHILE THE COYOTES – STILL UPSET OVER THE NON-CALL ON BROWN – LAMBASTE REFEREES POLLOCK AND WATSON. 

DISTRAUGHT MIKE SMITH IS COMFORTED BY HIS TEAMMATES.

THE RITUAL…

ALWAYS-CLASSY SHANE DOAN HAS KIND WORDS FOR JONATHAN QUICK (ABOVE) WHILE ANZE KOPITAR AND VETERAN RAY WHITNEY EMBRACE.

PHOENIX PLAYERS LEAVE THE ICE TO MUCH-DESERVED OVATION.

KINGS WHOOP IT UP…

DUSTIN BROWN SHAKES HANDS WITH NHL DEPUTY COMMISSIONER BILL DALY BEFORE RECEIVING CLARENCE CAMPBELL BOWL (ABOVE) AND WHILE SAYING GOODBYE (BELOW).

WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS HEAD TO THE DRESSING ROOM.

BROWN IS INTERVIEWED BY SCOTT OAKE OF HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA AND PENNER BY BRIAN ENGBLOM OF NBC SPORTS NETWORK (ABOVE). ENGBLOM THEN CHATS WITH QUICK (BELOW).

LOTS OF HAPPY L.A. FANS LINGERED AFTER THE VICTORY.

Email: howardLberger@gmail.com

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