With the Western Conference finals now set in the NHL playoffs, there is proof positive of the unpredictable nature inherent in playoff hockey, writes Jay Webster
Few people, including the oddsmakers, foresaw a Conference Final pairing of Pacific Division rivals in the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes. Just a few weeks ago both teams could be had at 25/1 or higher to win the cup. In fact, it has been pointed out that if you had put €100 on the then underdog Kings to win each of their 9 games so far in the playoffs, you’d be up over €800.
Of course, with one of them destined to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, the bookmakers aren’t sleeping on either of these teams any more: the Kings are currently listed at 21/10, with Phoenix at 3/1 to hoist the Cup.
With the two hottest goalies on ice between the posts in this series, betting the under could be a wise strategy. Both Jonathan Quick of the Kings and Phoenix’s Mike Smith have been virtually impenetrable in the opening two rounds, and a red-hot goalie is a prerequisite for winning the Stanley Cup.
The Kings were a hot pre-season pick to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, but they struggled mightily during the regular season, ultimately scraping into the playoffs on the season’s final day as the No8 seed. Since then they have gone on a tear, winning eight of their nine playoff games and becoming the first No8 seeded team to knock off both the No1 and No2 seeds in the same play-offs. And they’ve made it look downright easy, taking care of the President Trophy winning Canucks in five games, before sweeping the Blues out of the building in four games.
Los Angeles has gotten great play at just the right time out of their star players, such as Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty. Their special teams have been rock solid, and of course Quick has lived up to his name in goal, racking up a .949 save percentage in the playoffs. The way the Kings have been playing, it almost seems as if the Cup is theirs to lose at this stage.
Then again, hockey is a game that can see momentum shift very quickly. Just ask the Philadelphia Flyers. Phoenix plays disciplined, defense-first hockey in front of Smith, scoring more than three goals only twice in their 11 play-off games. It’s the kind of hockey designed to get under an opponent’s skin and into their heads, and they will be looking to slow the high-flying Kings down quickly in Game 1 in Phoenix.
As the Eastern Conference semi-finals drag on, both teams will have some time to rest up before they drop the puck, and if the Coyotes can stick to their game plan and grind down the Kings, it could be a great series.
It’s also great to see some new blood in the conference finals. The Kings are making just their second appearance, and first since 1993, while the Coyotes have never made it this far, even going all the way back to their days as the Winnipeg Jets, before they moved to Phoenix in 1996.
Unpredictability is what it’s all about in the NHL playoffs, and there is a lot of great hockey yet to be played.