LOS ANGELES - The Clarence Campbell Bowl was in Staples Center for the first time, waiting to be presented by commissioner Gary Bettman to the NHL’s Western Conference champions. The Los Angeles Kings’ long-suffering fans gathered downtown shortly after dawn, eager to witness a series sweep and a coronation.
And then Captain Coyote and his goalie crashed the party for a win that suggests this series is far from finished.
Shane Doan scored two goals, Mike Smith made 36 saves in his third playoff shutout, and the Phoenix Coyotes emphatically avoided playoff elimination with a 2-0 victory in Game 4 of the conference finals on Sunday.
Ray Whitney and Antoine Vermette had assists for the Coyotes, who avoided the sweep by snapping the eighth-seeded Kings’ eight-game winning streak and canceling Los Angeles’s plans to celebrate its first berth in the Stanley Cup Final since 1993. With their backs against the glass, the Coyotes soundly outplayed an opponent that had been on an 11-1 run through the postseason.
“We recognize we put ourselves in a tough position, [but] we also know it has been done,’’ said Doan, Phoenix’s captain since 2003 and the sole remaining member of the Winnipeg Jets team that moved to the desert in 1996.
Phoenix still must win three more games to become just the fourth team in NHL history to rally from an 0-3 series deficit, but the Coyotes finally regained the form they showed in knocking off Chicago and Nashville in the first two rounds.
Game 5 is Tuesday night in Phoenix. Los Angeles is 7-0 on the road in the playoffs, but the Coyotes can’t wait to see another whiteout in their stands.
“Two ways to look at it: They’re either due to lose, or we’ve got to find a way to stop them,’’ Doan said. “Law of averages says you’re going to lose eventually on the road, so it happens. Next game wouldn’t be a bad one to lose.’’
Doan scored on a power play in the first period and on a deflected shot in the second, silencing the crowd at the Kings’ first loss since April 18. Smith, who has all three of his shutouts on the road, made several impressive saves while outplaying Jonathan Quick.
“We had nothing to lose,’’ Smith said. “We had to make sure we played our best game. That would give us a chance to win. We obviously had a huge game from Doaner, and it trickled down through our lineup.
“Every guy knew that they were going to do their part to try to force this series to Game 5.’’
Quick stopped 19 shots with little help from his teammates, who were shut out for the first time in the postseason while hitting a bump in what had been one of the most impressive playoff runs in NHL history.
The Kings have reached the Cup Final just once in 44 seasons of existence, but their worst game of the postseason prevented them from becoming just the second No. 8 seed to win three playoff rounds.
“Phoenix played a really good game and came out hard,’’ Kings defenseman Matt Greene said. “Smith was awesome. They played well, and we can play better. We need to respond better than that.’’
The resilient Coyotes are no strangers to adversity after making the playoffs in three straight seasons without an owner or impressive fan support. Asked by Doan and coach Dave Tippett to show their pride in Game 4, the Coyotes showed they’re not done with the longest playoff run in franchise history.
“We’re going to go home feeling like we can grab some momentum out of this game,’’ Tippett said.
The scene was set for a Kings crowning at Staples Center, but they’ll have to fly to Phoenix after practice Monday.
“Do I like going back on the road tomorrow? No, absolutely not,’’ Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. “But that’s the way it works. That’s why it’s four out of seven.’’