After giving the fans what they deserve in a series victory on home ice in the playoff, the Phoenix Coyotes are advancing to the Western Conference Finals against the LA Kings. For the first time in their history in Arizona, the Coyotes have won two playoff series and are going to have the home ice advantage in the Western Conference Finals. No one outside the most rabid Coyotes fans gave this team a chance in October. No one could have predicted this ride. Other than us, because We Believe In The Coyotes.
Who are the heroes of this series?
- Mike Smith. 8 periods of 1 goal hockey. Stopping shots at point blank range. Not letting a mishandled puck send him into a mental tailspin as other goalies who wore the Coyote red have.
- Ray Whitney is deserved of the Superman cape as well. Tomorrow, he turns 40 years old. When asked postgame, he said this team reminds him of Carolina in 2006. When he got to lift the Cup. A team of scrappy players who chip in and contribute every night. No superstars that are going to be on the cover of a video game, just a collection of players who bought into a system of Dave Tippett. Ray provides a voice in the locker room, a leader who has done it better than anyone on the team, and his play on the ice makes the Prime Line go.
- The forwards. Throwing their bodies in front of shots. Backchecking (see Boedker tonight making a pad save on a rebound that was bound for the empty net) and packing it in around the goal. Boyd Gordon and Antoine Vermette each going 12 for 16 in the face off circle tonight. Martin Hanzal creating havoc in front of the net. Lauri Korpikoski racing the length of the ice in game 5 to beat Nashville to the puck and prevent an icing call in the 3rd period. The 4th line playing like an energy line should. They were forechecking hard, controlling the neutral zone, and being all over the Predators in the defensive zone.
- Last, the fans. We have been through so much. It was three years ago that Jerry Moyes put the team in bankruptcy. It was 1 hour before the game tonight that we got an official word, no matter how much Gary Bettman tried to downplay it, that we will have a new owner. For the past three years, it has been a collection of negative articles and stories coming out of Canada. Goldwater Institute threatening, not doing anything other than threatening. It was top line players leaving for “stable” environments. It has been Don Maloney cobbling a team together on a NHL budget, finding diamonds in the rough. It was constantly being afraid this team would get ripped from our fabric. There is a picture of a fan in the last Winnipeg Jets game of 1996 holding a sign that says “Phoenix, Take Good Care Of Our Boys.”
I’d like to think that we are taking good care of the boys. Especially the only two left from that team. Shane Doan and Stan Wilson. What they have been through. What they have done to stay here. Shane could have left for more money and more assured victories. He chose to stay in Phoenix, to try to make this work. After getting the Messier award for leadership, he spoke about what a great place Phoenix is to play. Always putting others before him. Always putting the team before himself.
Shane “It has been hard being a Phoenix Coyotes fan for a few years. It is so nice to win this one at home.” We are only half way there. By no means are we feeling like we accomplished anything.”
What have we seen so far this year?
- Shane Doan 1st carer hat trick
- Derek Morris playing in 1000th career game
- Ray Whitney becoming the 79th player in NHL History to get 1000 points
- The emergence of OEL as an offensive force on the blue line
- Keith Yandle a two-time All Star
- 11-0-1 in February to start this run that propelled into this run for the playoffs
- Mike Smith getting a second chance and making the most of it
- Mike Smith, Dave Tippett, and Don Maloney getting overlooked for awards.
It is okay, there is room in the trophy case in the player locker room for a Conn Smythe next to the Stanley Cup. Gary Bettman can hand the trophy to Shane Doan while future owner Greg Jamison watches from the owner’s suite. Rumor was that Bettman was in town to practice lifting the Cup.