PHILADELPHIA - There is no doubt the Los Angeles Kings earned the club's second-ever berth in the Stanley Cup final, but the way the Western Conference final ended was nothing short of surreal.
One minute it appeared the Kings and Phoenix Coyotes were headed for a second overtime in Game 5, but everything changed in an instant. Before you knew it, the teams were going through the motions in one of the most awkward handshake lines the Stanley Cup playoffs have ever seen.
Just seconds after L.A. forward Dustin Brown went unpenalized for drilling Phoenix defenseman Michal Rozsival with a vicious, but seemingly legal hit, the Kings ended the game and the series on a goal by Dustin Penner.
After some livid Coyote fans at Jobing.com Arena rained debris down on the Kings' celebration, the two teams got together at center ice for the traditional series-ending handshakes.
Normally, all is forgotten by the time the teams converge to exchange niceties, but in this instance, the wound was too fresh. A few Coyotes players, including team captain Shane Doan, seemed to have testy exchanges with Brown in the handshake line.
Thankfully, words, and not fists, were the only things hurled. In a sport in which the loss of respect between players is often cited as a concern, a tradition as simple as shaking hands at the end of a series without a brawl breaking out is an important one.
Of course, players from both sides viewed Brown's hit on Rozsival differently. The hit itself appeared to be legal, but it came a split second after the whistle blew for an offsides call. That being said, it wasn't late enough for a penalty to be called and it's highly unlikely that it will be reviewed by the league for a fine or suspension.
As Brown saw it, "Rozsival was cutting to the middle and I cut across and made contact. Obviously, they thought it was kneeing. I felt I got him with my shoulder. My left side and his right side all made contact, from toe to shoulder."
Brown is right that his shoulder was the initial point of contact. That means the knee-to-knee contact, which is the part of the hit that apparently injured Rozsival, was the unfortunate result of a hard, but legal check.
The most ridiculous opinion on this topic came from Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith. The netminder was obviously emotional after getting knocked out of the postseason, but Smith compared Brown's hit to the one that Coyotes enforcer Raffi Torres delivered earlier this postseason on Chicago's Marian Hossa.
As a refresher, Torres was suspended 25 games for a very late and dangerously high hit on the Blackhawks forward and few people argued with that penalty because it was so clearly deserved. So, it's absolutely unfair for Smith to say "if Raffi Torres gets 25 games for his hit during the play, then this guy (Brown) ought to be done forever."
It's never easy to lose an overtime game at any point in the playoffs and having your season end that way in the conference final has to be one of the most painful experiences an NHL player can experience. The emotion from the Coyotes' players is understandable, but comments like Smith's shouldn't be taken seriously because they were borne out of anger and not logic.
The Coyotes didn't lose the conference final because of a single hit, they lost it because the Kings were vastly superior throughout this series.
Acknowledging that fact will be easier in a few days or weeks from now because even if emotion prevents the Coyotes from admitting it now, L.A. has nothing to be ashamed of regarding how it earned its place in the Cup final.