Phoenix Coyotes advance in Stanley Cup Playoffs
Heartbreak has come to define the Phoenix Coyotes in recent years. They have been plagued by ongoing ownership issues, tepid fan support and playoff disappointments. Just about when they seem ready to turn the page and start a new chapter in their history, they shut down the engine.
Well, its time to pick up the pen again as the Desert Dogs have advanced to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 4-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Six of their series, winning the set 4-2. They now face-off with the Nashville Predators, which eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in five games. The Coyotes series win was the first since the team moved from Winnipeg in 1996, the first time in franchise history since 1987.
This is a team devoid of top talent, relying heavily on their goaltending and team defensive structure. There are no Sidney Crosbys or Alex Ovechkins on this club. No Zdeno Charas or Shea Webers (who Phoenix will meet in the next series). No Henrik Lundqvists or Pekka Rinnes (another Predator). Nobody could’ve ever guessed that a team with Mike Smith as its net minder, 39-year-old Ray Whitney as its best offensive weapon and 20-year-old Oliver Ekman-Larsson leading the defensive corps would get to the playoffs, let alone win their division. But they did it, and have overachieved more than any team in the NHL this season.
Watching this team suffer through two straight gut-wrenching first round losses to the hated Detroit Red Wings in 2010 and 2011 was draining. Last year was especially depressing, after seeing them get swept and then face what was supposed to be all-but-certain relocation back to their original location in Winnipeg, who instead got the Atlanta Thrashers.
But this year, my faith is restored in this club. Coach Dave Tippett is a miracle worker, getting the most out of his teams year in and year out. Shane Doan, for so long the poster boy of dedication, perseverance and loyalty, finally gets past the first round. After losing Game Five in overtime — the fifth straight overtime game (tying an NHL record for a playoff series — I nearly lost hope. They were going back to Chicago, granted still up 3-2 in the series, but they were going to play a motivated, nothing-to-lose Blackhawks squad with their sights set on a Game Seven back in Glendale, Ariz.
But Doan and Tippett would have none of that. Although Doan didn’t record a goal in the clincher, his presence invigorates the team to a new level. Tippett’s decisions to give his fourth line extra ice time resulted in two goals in Game Six while his coaching on the power plays resulted in the two other tallies.
When the final horn rang in the United Center and the remaining Blackhawks fans in attendance, which included actor Vince Vaughn and NBA legend Michael Jordan, made their way for the exits, the team surrounded its rock, Smith, and celebrated with gusto before shaking hands with the Blackhawks per league tradition.
It’s only the first round but to the Coyotes, and their fans, this might as well be just as good as hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup, the holy grail of trophies. Now they must reassert their attention to the looming test that is the Predators, a team much similar to the Coyotes in style both on and off the ice.
But for now, let the Dogs rest. After all, they spent so many years chasing this dream. Let them go fetch another one when the time is right.