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Dream final

Anybody who thought it would be Kings vs. Coyotes in West had to have been dreaming

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Somebody, somewhere will claim to have seen this coming. Maybe it came to them in a dream, was revealed in their tea leaves or via a message from God.

And if they happened to put significant money on the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes meeting in the NHL's Western Conference Final, it's a good bet they are now sipping those fancy umbrella-drinks while chillin' on their brand-spanking-new yacht.

Yes, the Kings-Coyotes match-up -- which showcases the two squads with the sixth and eighth-best regular-season records in the West -- is so far off script even the dreamers in Hollywood would have rejected the premise as too far-fetched at the beginning of April.

But here these two sides are after having KO'd pre-playoff favourites like the Vancouver Canucks, the President's Trophy winners, the upstart St. Louis Blues -- tied for the second-best record in the NHL -- the veteran Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks and their 101-point regular season and the once-trendy pick to represent the West, the Nashville Predators.

And so these two teams which are so similar on the ice -- particularly with their stellar goaltending anchoring a defensive commitment and deep, deep rosters -- also have this in common: Nobody expected them to be here in this battle -- the long shot Kings vs. the orphaned Coyotes.

There's more to that, too. The Coyotes, as long-serving Winnipeg Jets fans can attest, have never been to the third round of the playoffs. And the Kings haven't played this late into the spring in 19 years, not since Wayne Gretzky & Co. fell to the Montreal Canadiens in the 1993 Stanley Cup final.

Not surprisingly, given where they have come from, both teams were adopting the underdog tag heading into their series which opens Sunday night in Arizona.

"I think a lot of people always view us as a smaller-market team that's in the hunt but nobody views us as a contender," said Coyotes' head coach Dave Tippett in a conference call. "I look at our game as kind of evolved over the last part of the regular season and into the playoffs, where we have the confidence we can beat anybody. We recognized that we'll probably always be looked at as the underdog, but hasn't changed for us in about the last three years, so we're comfortable in that mode."

Added Kings' coach Darryl Sutter: "Phoenix won the division. We finished close to them. It doesn't really matter. They get the extra game at home. That makes them the favourite."

Settle in, hockey fans, for this will be a battle where defensive blueprints are adhered to religiously, the netminders are dominant and goals are scarce.

"There's usually a defining play, a defining situation in the game that determines the outcome," Tippett told The Los Angeles Times. "It might be a great save, a power play, an unfortunate mistake. I think you're going to see closely contested games and the team that has the ability to capitalize on an event, whether good or bad, sometimes those are the difference-makers in the game.

"I think it should be a great series. I think it's great for both franchises. Lots of excitement, lots of notoriety for the game in both cities."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 12, 2012 C1

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