GLENDALE, Ariz. - Smiling faces can be seen through scruffy playoff beards around the Los Angeles Kings dressing room these days, but there are no expressions of astonishment or disbelief.
As shocked as some may be that the Kings flew home with a 2-0 lead over the Phoenix Coyotes in the West final on Tuesday, and need only two more wins to advance to their first Stanley Cup final in 19 years, the Kings are not staggered by their playoff success.
Even though they finished in eighth place in the West and 29th in the league in offence, they truly believed that with the Western Conference such a tight race from top-to-bottom all season long anybody could beat anybody. So they swiftly built some confidence six weeks ago in their opener against the Vancouver Canucks and have kept rolling.
"We have peaked at the right time," said Kings forward Brad Richardson said, who in the 4-0 win over the Coyotes moved to centre on the fourth line with Colin Fraser returning home to attend to a family matter on Thursday afternoon.
"I don't think you can pinpoint one reason," Richardson continued. "We've simply played really well as a team. We have a lot of depth. We haven't relied on one person. All our forwards have been getting the job done. Our defence has been great and so has [goalie] Jonathan Quick."
Inside the Los Angeles dressing room and in video sessions, Kings coach Darryl Sutter has constantly reminded his players about "hounding the puck." It's the Kings way of setting up a stifling forecheck that opponents have yet to crack.
Los Angeles has an excellent combination of skill, size and grit, and because they skate so well they have frustrated opponents offensively and quickly transformed turnovers into enough goals to have them in this enviable position.
As late as March 18, the Kings were outside the top-eight in the West. But they have been a much better since Sutter took over behind the bench just before Christmas. The Kings have gone a combined 35-14-11 in the regular season and playoffs under their new coach and the players have a tremendous amount of respect for him.
This was evident in Game 2 of the West final. With the game getting out of hand on Tuesday, Sutter kept reminding his players to keep their composure.
The Coyotes certainly didn't. Phoenix captain Shane Doan was given the boot for his hit from behind on Trevor Lewis in the second period. Ditto for Coyotes centre Martin Hanzal for his vicious boarding major on Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown in the third. Phoenix defenceman Derek Morris kneed Kings defenceman Rob Scuderi late in the game. Hanzal and Morris could face supplementary discipline for their actions.
"He's an old school coach who cares," Richardson said. "He wants to win every night. There are no nights off with him. We see how much he cares and we care.
"Darryl has found a way to reach to our group. He gives us simple goals to accomplish. I don't want give away everything, but you can see the result. Even our top players like [Anze Kopitar] are finishing their checks and a guy like Dustin Brown has playing like a wild man."
How dominant has this group been in this playoff run? Here are some statistics to digest.
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