LOS ANGELES - With Martin Hanzal suspended for Game 3 of the Western Conference final on Thursday, the Phoenix Coyotes will need even more from one of their playoff heroes in the first two rounds, dependable centre Antoine Vermette.
NHL director of player safety Brendan Shanahan tacked on a one-game suspension to Hanzal for his nasty third-period hit-from-behind on Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown, that resulted in a boarding major and game misconduct on Tuesday.
The odds are slim that the Coyotes can win four of the next five games to overcome a 2-0 series deficit, especially against a Kings team that has skated through the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs with relative ease by winning 10 of 11 starts.
Like many of his teammates, the 29-year-old Vermette, who leads the Coyotes with five goals and nine points in 13 playoff games, has been held off the score sheet by the stingy Kings in the first two games of the West final.
But Vermette has bailed out his teammates in the previous two rounds with bounce-back performances and will try his best to turn the trick one more time playing on a line with Phoenix captain Shane Doan.
The native of Saint-Agapit, Que. (near Quebec City) knows all about playoff heartbreak and would like to avoid experiencing another letdown. He was with the Ottawa Senators when the Anaheim Ducks beat them in the Stanley Cup final five years ago.
Five years before the Senators near miss, Vermette led his junior team, the Victoriaville Tigres, all the way to the 2002 Memorial Cup final, but lost to the Kootenay Ice.
What made that run difficult to overcome was the fact Vermette missed seven months that season with a mysterious neck injury that was misdiagnosed as post-concussion symptoms.
A few weeks after his 19th birthday, Vermette had been invited to the Canadian junior summer camp. In a scrimmage, however, he got tangled up with defenceman Jay Bouwmeester and all of a sudden Vermette's camp was over.
"There was a lot of concern for me," Vermette recalled. "There was nothing dirty about the play. It was a clean hit. It was just one of those things. They were careful with getting me off the ice and it took a long time to find out was wrong.
"I never feared that my career was over, but when you miss that much time you wonder how much it was going to affect you."
Finding his form
Vermette didn't return to action until there were four games to go in the regular season. But he swiftly found his form. He checked in with 10 goals and 26 points in 26 postseason games.
But Kootenay, led by Jarret Stoll, was too much for Victoriaville in the Memorial Cup final. The Ice won 6-3 and now Vermette faces Stoll as a member of the Kings.
That loss stung Vermette because, along with Matthew Lombardi, he was one of the go-to guys on the Tigres. That wasn't the case with the Senators in the Stanley Cup final a few years later because Vermette played behind Jason Spezza and Mike Fisher.
When the Senators dealt Vermette to the Columbus Blue Jackets a few years later, Vermette received more responsibility with his new club. He put together an impressive 27-goal, 65-point season in 2009-10 and regained that form in this playoff run with the Coyotes.
"This has been a good for me," said Vermette, who was dealt by the last-place Blue Jackets in exchange for backup goalie Curtis McElhinney as well as a second-round and fifth-round draft picks on Feb. 22. "You get to the Stanley Cup final at a young age and you don't know if you'll get another chance. You want to get back and play a bigger role."
Odds and ends
Shanahan deemed that Doan's hit on Los Angeles forward Trevor Lewis in Game 2 and the ensuing kneeing incident by Phoenix defenceman Derek Morris on Kings blue-liner Matt Greene did not merit any supplementary discipline ... The Kings held an optional practice on Wednesday, while the Coyotes practiced back in Scottsdale, Ariz. before flying to Los Angeles ... Fourth-line Los Angeles centre Colin Fraser, who left the team on Tuesday to attend to a family matter back in Canada, has yet to rejoin the Kings ... This is the fifth time in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs a team has taken a 2-0 series lead. No team has come back in the previous four after losing the first two games.
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