The Los Angeles Kings have been without a doubt the best team of the NHL playoffs thus far. Becoming the first eighth-seeded team in NHL history to knock off the top two seeded teams in the playoffs, and looking to bump out the No 3. team in the Western Conference today with a sweep of the Phoenix Coyotes, the action will be intense and exciting for Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals between two scrappy Pacific Division rivals. With face-off scheduled for 3:00 PM ET today, let’s take a quick overview of the series, and the match-up for tonight’s critical showdown, to get the lowdown on the best betting options available at one of the top reviewed online sportsbooks found right here.
With 8 straight wins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings have made believers out of everyone familiar with the game of hockey. Los Angeles’ goalie, Jonathan Quick, had his skeptics heading into the first series against Vancouver, when he came in at a 4-8 record in the postseason up to that point. Just look at him now: 11-1 in the 2012 playoffs. A .951 save percentage and a 1.41 goals against average. 8 goals allowed to Vancouver in 5 games, 6 against St. Louis in 4, and only 3 against Phoenix through 3 games in the Western Conference Finals. It is safe to say that if this kid doesn’t win the Conn Smythe trophy (most valuable player in the playoffs) AND the Vezina trophy (top goaltender for the entire season), there is a gross injustice in the world of hockey. Jonathan Quick is responsible for getting the Kings into the playoffs (after they finished second to last in the NHL in scoring), and has given the Kings the confidence they need to expand their offensive game, which has finally lived up to full potential in this year’s playoffs. Heading into Game 4, Quick will be rested, ready to be on his best in front of a supportive and excited home crowd, and prepared for anything Phoenix has to throw at him.
As mentioned though, the Kings offensive push in the postseason has also been a huge boost to a team that simply couldn’t find a way to produce during the regular season, even leading to the dismissal of head coach Terry Murray at the midway point of the 2011-12 campaign. With Darryl Sutter filling in and quickly turning things around with a disciplined and aggressive coaching style, the Kings have become the most feared team in the NHL, staying cool, calm and composed against every team they’ve been an underdog to. Underdogs no more, the Kings are clicking on all offensive and defensive cylinders, and no doubt the captain of their team, Dustin Brown, has been the role model for the entire group, producing 7 goals and 8 assists in 12 games to lead team in points (15). Two other huge factors include Anze Kopitar, who has scored a point in 6 straight games and has 4 multiple point games during that stretch, and rookie Dwight King, who has surprised everyone (likely including himself) with 4 goals in this series for a total of 5 in the playoffs. Add in the fleet of additional scoring threats including Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams, and defensemen Drew Doughty, who have all provided at least 8 points in the playoffs, and you can see how the Kings, despite underperforming all season long, have always had the talent on offense to carry them deep towards a Stanley Cup trophy.
And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the Kings formidable defense, which has simply dominated each of the three teams played this postseason via their quickness, physical presence, and unfaltering drive to chase down every loose puck and finish every available hit. Drew Doughty in particular has finally stepped up as the elite defensemen his massive salary dictated he should be, and has been helped by outstanding play from Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi, Matt Greene and Slava Voynov, who have all been relentless at frustrating opposing offenses and turning defensive stands into offensive opportunities. Not going unnoticed either is the Kings penalty kill, which is clicking at a 93.8 percent success rate during the playoffs, allowing just 3 goals against the man advantage (while generating 4 short-handed goals in the process).
The Phoenix Coyotes on the other hand, while playing at an impressive level this postseason in front of outstanding efforts by break-out goalie Mike Smith, have simply not had the answer to the speed, physicality, and tenacity of the Los Angeles Kings. They’ve been unable to crack the Kings penalty killers, who have stopped 29 straight power plays dating back to Game 5 of the opening series against Vancouver. They have gotten frustrated at their inability to get shots on goal, and despite finally pulling even on shots in Game 3 through 2 periods (15-15), they mustered only 3 shots in the final set and were edged out on a late goal by rookie Dwight King. Captain Shane Doan has not looked himself during this series, leading the team in penalty minutes (19) against Los Angeles, and getting ejected for what was likely a case of poor refereeing on a boarding call levvied in favor of the Kings’ Trevor Lewis. With only three goals scored in this series, and only 11 points COMBINED for the top six Coyotes players against the Kings, Phoenix has been reduced to a shell of their confident self on offense, and have left Mike Smith high and dry in goal to fend for himself. Here’s something telling: In the 3 losses against the Kings so far in this series, Smith has had a whopping 38.3 shots fired at him per game. It speaks volumes as to how good of a goaltender Smith really is, considering he’s still operating at a .922 save percentage despite seeing that many shots come at him from the hottest offense in the playoffs (Kings are averaging 3.08 goals/game this postseason). Without some additional defensive help, which finally did show up in Game 3 (28 shots allowed), and something better than 1 goal per game of offense, the Phoenix Coyotes will quickly become the Kings’ second straight sweep victim by the end of the day.
Keys for the Coyotes then this evening is to continue to try and take advantage of any of the Kings’ weaknesses, however miniscule they may be. One notable area that the Coyotes tried to exploit in Game 3 was the long forward pass out of the defensive zone, which was even tried by goalie Mike Smith at one point. With head coach Dave Tippett trying to spread the Kings thin, Phoenix was actually able to take an early lead in the first period of Game 3, the first time a team had led over Los Angeles since Game 1 of the Kings’ Semifinal series vs. St. Louis. The Kings play fast and aggressive towards the puck, and the Coyotes must find a way to get them over-committing on loose pucks, and make pinpoint passes up the ice to get on fast breaks. Another key area for Phoenix today will be to simply play better defense, as they did in Game 3. Every shot the Kings take has to have a body in front of it (they could learn a lot of lessons from the New York Rangers game tape), and they must avoid allowing hot hands like Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar to sit in front of goal. Lastly, someone has to step up and lead for the ‘Yotes, and not in a penalized way. Shane Doan has tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to rally the team by getting under the skin of the Kings top players. It is not working. The Yotes need someone to step up their intensity not by trying to aggravate the Kings, but rather by outskating, outshooting and outdefending them. This would be a perfect time for leaders like Antoine Vermette, Keith Yandle and Mikkel Boedker to put on their desperation hats and skate up to the level of what the Kings have been doing all series long. While it’s a tough challenge for sure against a Kings team brimming with confidence and poise, Phoenix has to take a page from their foes’ playbook, and concentrate on fundamental hockey with an intensity level that surpasses everything they’ve produced thus far.
For Los Angeles, sticking with the game plan thus far is the key factor in Game 4 today. Generate lots of shots on goal, frustrate the Phoenix offense, and press towards every loose puck. Don’t lose composure. The Kings have been so dominant especially in the offensive zone, that simply continuing to dump the puck in and keep the puck active around the Coyotes’ net will likely pay dividends, as it has in the three previous meetings. Dustin Brown will again be the tastemaker for the Kings on offense, and Drew Doughty will set the tone on the defensive end. Getting Anze Kopitar lots of shots on goal will also be a huge boost once more, as the Kings love to rally around the smooth style of the Slovenian playmaker. Stymieing the opposing power play will work two-fold; frustrate the Phoenix offense, and grow the confidence of the Kings defense. Lastly, support Jonathan Quick. Quick has only seen an average of 23 shots on goal this series, and while he’s almost suffered lapses because of the infrequent shots on goal, keeping him fresh and facing as few shots as possible will keep his stamina and focus up through what will be 3 tough periods of play.
Betting Lines for the Los Angeles Kings vs. Phoenix Coyotes at Oddsmaker Sportsbook.
Los Angeles hasn’t played the best this year on home ice, being more comfortable on the road and scoring more goals away, but with everything in their control tonight, they’ll have -200 odds to win straight up as they look to finish off the series in front of a raucous home crowd. It’ll be tough to back the Coyotes, who are +170 underdogs, as they’ll likely need 3 goals in this game to have a shot at victory, something they have mustered in 3 whole games in this series so far.
Against the spread, Los Angeles must cover 1.5 goals at +150 odds, which has been a lower mark than in the previous 3 games played. Phoenix gets a 1.5 goal margin to play with for underdog pickers, but at -170 odds. Expect Phoenix to come out with their best, most disciplined game of the series today, which should keep them as a good option to stay within the spread.
On the total points line, again these two exceptional goalies have commanded respect, with 4.5 goals once again set as the over/under. EVEN odds are taken for the underside, -120 for the over bet. With only the first game of the series going over the mark, expectations should be high that we’ll see another tight, low-scoring game once more, and the EVEN odds are still relatively solid for chasing the under wager.
Expect a fantastic showdown with everything on the line for both the Los Angeles Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes, and get your wagers place for this exciting Game 4 at the Oddsmaker Sportsbook right now!