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West's biggest surprise: Phoenix or LA? Print
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Written by Frank Seravalli   
Tuesday, 01 May 2012 02:43

Please stand and pat yourself on the back if you saw Phoenix, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Nashville as the Western Conference's final four representatives in the Stanley Cup playoffs back in November.

altYou deserve it.

Take a second and think about it. The Phoenix Coyotes watched their top asset in Ilya Bryzgalov walk for Ed Snider's money. The St. Louis Blues hadn't gotten over the hump in years and added nothing more than a few wily veterans last summer. The Los Angeles Kings had not advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2001.

Now, please stand if you picked Phoenix and Los Angeles to have 2-0 strangleholds in the second round over the Nashville Predators and St. Louis, the two teams who looked unbeatable in the first round.

I'll call bull on that.

Or, send me an email with verifiable proof and I will send you the deed to my house, since I would have bet it all that neither one of these teams would be in the commanding positions they now find themselves in heading into the travel days of these series.

(By the way: it's a good thing I still rent.)

For me, it's tough to tell exactly which series is more surprising at this point.

Both Nashville and St. Louis are just playing so uncharacteristically. The defensive-minded Blues have now lost twice on home ice by an 8-3 margin. Jaroslav Halak is done for the series (not that it matters) and Alex Pietrangelo is struggling.

Nashville couldn't earn a split in the desert after splitting in the much tougher Joe Louis Arena. Oh, yeah, and Vezina finalist Pekka Rinne has allowed nine goals in the first two games of the series. What in the Pekk is going on here?

Often times, when looking at such lopsided performances, it's easy to look at Nashville's and St. Louis' follies and try to make sense of it all. That doesn't give their opponents the credit due.

Phoenix, for one, closed out the regular season on a 7-1-2 run to capture the Pacific Division. It had an up-and-down year, but was pretty firmly in the playoff hunt for the entire season.

It's easy to forget, on the other hand, that many thought the Kings were fighting for the job of their general manager, Dean Lombardi, in the last few weeks of the regular season. This is a Kings team that was one of two teams in the NHL to score less than 200 goals this season.

Somehow, Los Angeles has stunned the new odds-on favorite with two wins at Scottrade Center to stay flawless on the road in the playoffs (5-0).Jonathan Quick

That's why I have to say that the Kings are the NHL's biggest surprise of the playoffs. And it's really not solely because they extinguished the Cup dreams of the West's No. 1 seed. It's the dominating fashion in which they've beaten teams.

A huge part of that is due to the play of goaltender Jonathan Quick, who should have been nominated as a Hart Trophy finalist for "most valuable player to his team." Unlike Steven Stamkos, Quick actually made a tangible difference in his team's standing.

Quick has a sterling 6-1 record with a 1.56 goals against-average and ridiculous .952 save percentage through the Kings' first seven games.

Sometimes, it's hard to believe this is the same Los Angeles team that fired coach Terry Murray in December. Captain Dustin Brown, a beast in the playoffs, was once thought to be on the trade block. It's taken some time to adjust, but it seems like Lombardi's bold moves to add former Flyers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards have paid off. Richards and Carter have combined for 31 points in the Kings' last 23 games.

Los Angeles is scoring at a 2.86 goals per-game clip in the playoffs, where it is supposed to be harder to score, above their second-worst 2.32 goals per-game run during the regular season. And Quick is keeping them out at the other end.

That chemistry couldn't possibly be setting up a ‘Flyers East' vs. ‘Flyers West' matchup in a Stanley Cup final, could it? Then again, it wouldn't be the most shocking part of this year's playoff run.

Frank Seravalli covers the Flyers for the Philadelphia Daily News. On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Photos by Getty Images

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 May 2012 11:19