GLENDALE, Ariz. – Fourteen hours after their dream postseason hit a roadblock, the Phoenix Coyotes were in their dressing room talking about the need to be "better," how it's imperative to be "more physical" and admitting that Tuesday night's Game 2 in the Western Conference final is a "must-win."
A couple hundred feet away, a group of 15 L.A. Kings were horsing about while kicking around a soccer ball.
This is the picture a Game 1 road win/home loss paints. Whatever happens Tuesday night, the Kings know they're going home no worse than tied 1-1. On the flip side, urgency has already kicked in for the Coyotes. Lose Game 2 and they're pretty much cooked.
"It's hard to come back when you're down 0-2," said Coyotes captain Shane Doan. "You don't get anything for winning two, but it makes it a lot easier to get to four if you get those first two."
For two rounds, the Coyotes won on grit, resilience and the pure brilliance of goaltender Mike Smith. There was no waltzing into the conference final like their counterparts. Along the way, Phoenix endured six overtimes, eight games decided by one goal and were outshot by their opponents 400-295.
Yes, 400-295. Had to verify that one three times.
[Nicholas J. Cotsonika: Dan Girardi in full warrior mode for Rangers against Devils in Game 1]
There are two ways to look at this: the Coyotes are either lucky to still be alive or they're one of the all-time great bend-but-don't-break teams.
They showed that again Sunday against the Kings when, despite being outshot 48-27, they were still within a goal in the closing minutes and at one point would have actually taken the lead if a sprawling Jonathan Quick hadn't flailed his blocker in the path of a goal-bound puck.
But while the Coyotes’ brand of hockey is tactful in its execution and fantastically dramatic, is it possible to keep winning playoff series this way? More in the present, can they beat the Kings by simply staying in games and giving themselves a puncher's chance?
At this point, there's no going back to the drawing board. They are who they are – a superstar-less group that relies on the contributions of everyone who skates a shift – and Tuesday night they will be a team that will try to knock Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar into next week.
Yes, Game 2 is going to be physical because that's the only way Phoenix can match up and win against L.A.
"You got to be physical with these guys – take their time and space away from them," said Coyotes center Martin Hanzal. When asked if that means things are about to get rough, Hanzal cracked a smile and said, "For sure."
Not that this is some big surprise, especially coming from Hanzal, whose line will be matched against Brown's. "We expect them to come out with some spunk and some jam and we just have to match it," said Justin Williams, the third member of the Brown-Kopitar front line.
"[If we have a] lot of shots on net, a lot of zone time, we simply cannot get discouraged because they're a team that hangs around, hangs around and eventually they get their goals."
It's how the Coyotes beat the Chicago Blackhawks in Round 1, the Nashville Predators in Round 2. In both series they won Game 1 despite being outshot 45-34 and 42-24, respectively.
The Kings avoided the same fate Sunday night, but not by much. But not by much makes a massive difference heading into Game 2. It's why on Monday while one team was talking about all the changes it needs to make in order to avoid a potentially desperate situation, the other was kicking around a soccer ball.
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