EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — For three years now, coach Dave Tippett has kept the Phoenix Coyotes together when they had every off-ice reason to fall apart. When they struggled to fill their rink, when the franchise seemed headed to Winnipeg, Tippett and his players kept improving and winning.
Now that they're stuck in a 0-3 hole in the Western Conference finals against an opponent seemingly touched by playoff destiny, Tippett and the Coyotes still aren't folding against maybe their longest odds yet.
In Game 4 on Sunday, the Los Angeles Kings will attempt to clinch just their second trip to the Stanley Cup final. The Coyotes still haven't given up hope of reaching their first.
"There's nothing to say now," Tippett said after the Coyotes' late-afternoon workout Saturday at the Kings' training complex. "We've got to win. Hopefully we can push it back to Phoenix and keep the series going."
Only three NHL teams have overcome this daunting deficit, but Phoenix is confident it has resources it hasn't tapped while getting outscored 10-3 so far by the eighth-seeded Kings, who have lost just once in 12 playoff games.
The Coyotes know Los Angeles better than most opponents after splitting the six-game season series and finishing two points ahead of the Kings for the Pacific Division title, so they know it's possible to beat L.A.
Doing it has been another matter entirely.
"Being down 3-0 is a big enough mountain, and then this team is rolling pretty good," Coyotes forward Ray Whitney said of the Kings. "We realize how difficult it's going to be, but we're not throwing everything in."
If the Coyotes were the quitting types, they all would have fled the desert a few years ago when the club went into bankruptcy and became ownerless. They were written off as a financial disaster of the NHL's southern land rush of the 1990s, a struggling club that would eventually wind up in Winnipeg, Hamilton, Quebec City or someplace else where ice doesn't melt quite so quickly.
But the Coyotes have thrived under those dire circumstances ever since Tippett took over from Wayne Gretzky in 2009. With financial worries and tiny crowds — Phoenix was last in the NHL in attendance this season, too — the Coyotes have made three straight playoff appearances, culminating in this unprecedented run to the conference final.
"We've had that motivation for most of the year," Whitney said. "We had that in the first two rounds. Everybody else counting us out, that was happening before this season started, so that's not a new motivation."
Yet the Coyotes' dream season has been interrupted by the harsh reality of the Kings, who have realized their enormous potential during a stunning run through the first 2½ rounds of the postseason. Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick has allowed just 17 goals in 12 games, and the Kings' low-scoring offense has become potent, averaging just over three goals per game.