Los Angeles Kings' Dustin Penner (25) celebrates his game-winning goal against the Phoenix Coyotes with teammates Jeff Carter (77), Slava Voynov (26) and Mike Richards (10) in overtime during Game 5 of the NHL Western Conference final on Tuesday, May 22, 2012, in Glendale, Ariz. The Kings defeated the Coyotes 4-3, and advance to the Stanley Cup final.
Photograph by: Ross D. Franklin, AP
GLENDALE, Ariz. — It took five games, but the Western Conference championship series finally produced a memorable night of hockey.
Just not in a good way for fans of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Seconds after Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown was exonerated for what could have been ruled a knee-on-knee or elbowing penalty on defenceman Michal Rozsival, Dustin Penner ripped a fat rebound past Mike Smith to give the Kings a 4-3 overtime victory Tuesday night.
The decision sent the Coyotes into yet another uncertain off-season, while the Kings advanced to the Stanley Cup final having played just two games over the minimum.
They will await the winner of the New York-New Jersey series, and will enjoy — or live to regret — a seven-day layoff before they open the Cup final May 30 . . . on the road, where they are now 8-0.
Repeating their first-round formula against the Vancouver Canucks, the Kings failed to sweep the Coyotes by losing Game 4 at home, but won the next game in overtime, this one lasting a little more than 17 minutes before Penner swooped in on a rebound of a Jeff Carter backhand and made no mistake from 20 feet out.
L.A. had played only one overtime game in their playoff run — on the road in Vancouver, where Jarret Stoll's goal eliminated the Canucks.
"I just followed the bouncing puck until I was in a good enough position to shoot it," said Penner, who was a rookie on the Anaheim Ducks team that won the 2007 Stanley Cup.
"There are some similarities, but I think I'm in a different place mentally now. I think I have a greater appreciation for how hard it is to get here."
Tuesday's game was a thing of fierce beauty and speed and scoring chances, all the things the Kings-Coyotes series had failed to be through four games.
After a third period that had end-to-end rushes, hitting, great goaltending at both ends, even a 5-on-3 Phoenix power play created by the dreaded puck-over-the-glass infraction by Matt Greene, the teams headed to overtime with the Kings on the power play, courtesy of a Derek Morris delay-of-game penalty with 26 seconds left in regulation time on another high clearing attempt gone awry.
They went immediately to the attack, and dominated the overtime despite a mid-period interference call on L.A. defenceman Drew Doughty, who was the best player on the ice all night.
Brown, who had been in the conversation as an early candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy, escaped punishment for an iffy one-handed high stick on Coyotes' Martin Hanzal early in overtime, but infuriated the crowd and the Phoenix bench when he caught Rozsival on the railroad tracks at the blue line and hit him high and low.
There was no call on the play, even when Rozsival was helped off the ice, and the crowd was still booing when Penner ended the Coyotes' amazing playoff run.
"It's not going to do any good (to complain) right now," said Phoenix coach Dave Tippett. "You guys should just write what you saw. The players . . . there's a lot of blood, sweat and tears that goes into this. It is what it is. L.A. played well. That's what should be remembered, not the refereeing."
"It was tough for those guys," said L.A. coach Darryl Sutter. "I told Shane Doan and Ray Whitney it was tough to coach against them, because I was pulling for them, too."
After missing the chance to close the series at home, the Kings should have been ready to rock Tuesday, but they weren't even in the game early, totally swarmed by the Coyotes, who had so many early chances they could have led 3-0 by the 10-minute mark.
Instead, all the home team had on the board was a power-play goal by Taylor Pyatt, who both screened and deflected Hanzal's one-timer from the high slot at 4:20, with Doughty in the box for thwarting a 4-on-2 break by pushing the L.A. net off its pegs.
A combination of Jonathan Quick athleticism and erratic shooting by the Coyotes kept the Kings in it. Though they took a too-many-men penalty midway through the period, they scored short-handed — Anze Kopitar tipping in Doughty's point shot after Smith iced the puck while trying to do too much with it on the power play.
It was the fifth shortie of the post-season for the Kings, equalling the short-handed output of the other 15 playoff teams combined.
L.A. took over the game in the second, but the Coyotes stayed with them on the scoreboard with the benefit of a couple of bounces.
Each team had the lead at one point, and lost it. Marc-Antoine Pouliot's first-ever playoff tally was about 50 per cent own-goal by L.A. defenceman Slava Voynov, who tried to clear a bouncing puck and instead slapped Pouliot's stick, propelling the puck past Quick. Then Doughty sifted in a long, screened wrister from the point that Smith never saw.
Mike Richards finished off a brilliant shift by his linemates, Penner and Carter, two minutes later to give the Kings their first lead, but with 3:37 left, a pass from the wing by Pyatt bounced off a stick and then in off the shinpad of Keith Yandle, and the period ended 3-3.
"What a wild and woolly hockey game," said Sutter. "It was tied going into the third, that's overtime also. It was going on for almost 40 minutes, same thing."
At the end, the Coyotes stood in a circle at centre ice, saluting the sellout crowd of 17,148 fans who serenaded them as they left the ice, hoping — the players and the supporters — that it wasn't for the last time.
"It's too bad it ends so suddenly like that, but ultimately I think our players should look back and feel good about what they accomplished this year," Tippett said.
"The frustration will go away, and the building of a new team for next year will start very soon. I think the amount this team gave to get us to this spot should not be forgotten or taken lightly."
On the other side, there was elation . . . and perhaps a little relief. The Kings, who have never won the Cup and have only been to the final once, when they lost to Montreal in 1993, will go back to L.A. as the last men standing in the Staples Center now that the Lakers and Clippers have been eliminated in the NBA playoffs.
"We'll probably have to get a bigger bandwagon," said Penner. "It's great for the city, great for hockey in the city of L.A. We have a pretty rabid fan base, I think you'll see more of that now."
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