GLENDALE, Ariz. – Dwight King scored his second goal of the game into an empty net, and the Los Angeles Kings opened the Western Conference finals with a 4-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday night to remain unbeaten on the road in the playoffs.
The Kings dominated early despite a week off and outshot Phoenix 48-27.
Anze Kopitar scored 4 minutes in, Dustin Brown had a goal and an assist, and King had his first career two-goal game.
Derek Morris beat Jonathan Quick from the center line, and Mikkel Boedker also scored for the Coyotes.
Game 2 is Tuesday night in the desert.
This was the Western Conference finals few expected.
The Coyotes weren’t picked to even make the playoffs, entering the season with an unproven No. 1 goalie and no owner for the third consecutive year.
Grinding and relying on Mike Smith’s breakout season in goal, the Coyotes won their first division title as an NHL franchise and beat Chicago and Nashville, two supposedly better teams, in the first two rounds to make their inaugural appearance in the conference finals.
The Kings had expectations but didn’t quite live up to them.
Los Angeles was among the NHL’s worst-scoring teams all season, costing coach Terry Murray his job in December, and squeaked into the playoffs as the last team in the West behind Quick’s stellar season.
The Kings, too, were underdogs in the playoffs and didn’t seem to mind, racing through Vancouver and St. Louis to reach the conference finals for the first time since 1993 and become the first No. 8 seed to knock off the top two teams in the same playoffs.
That set up what figured to be a testy series between Pacific Division rivals.
The Coyotes and Kings know each other well, playing six times every season, a familiarity that’s led to some brutality, including a fight between captains Shane Doan and Brown in February.
Playing for a spot in the Stanley Cup finals, it didn’t figure to let up any.
Game 1 certainly was testy, with multiple scrums, hard hits and a roughing penalty on a goalie (Smith) in the first period – a trend that continued throughout the game.
The Kings had the game’s first eight shots, and Kopitar scooped up a loose puck in front before flipping a backhander past Smith’s glove side early in the first period.
With Los Angeles still in control – a 12-3 advantage in shots – Morris caught everyone off-guard, particularly Quick, by ripping a slap shot from the red (center) line past the Vezina Trophy finalist. That tied it at 1 and left Kings coach Darryl Sutter smirking in disbelief on the bench.
After outshooting the Coyotes 17-4 in the first period, Los Angeles kept up the pressure in the second, setting up King’s rebound goal on a 2-on-1 with Mike Richards midway through.
As they have all postseason, the Coyotes answered, scoring with just less than 2 minutes left in the period. Boedker got the goal, one-timing a pass from Doan after Antoine Vermette won a battle behind the goal with Kings defenseman Drew Doughty.
Brown put the Kings up 3-2 early in the third period, beating Smith stick side on a mini breakaway for his seventh goal of the playoffs.
This time, the Kings didn’t allow an answer, keeping up the pressure in Phoenix’s zone and getting a couple of big saves from Quick in the Coyotes’ closing flurry.
King put it out of reach with less than a minute left, leading the Kings to their eighth consecutive road playoff game dating to last season.