Disclaimer: Yes, this article is delayed, but readers who follow me and the Coyotes may understand and hopefully forgive me for needing some time for grieving, and clearing my head so I could write this article devoid of profanities.
Last Tuesday the Coyotes suffered an irreparable 4-3 OT loss to the LA Kings at home in Jobing.com Arena exiting them from the 2012 NHL Playoffs.
The Pacific Division Champs had their work surely cut out for them in this series, and they knew it too. In a do-or-die Game 5, the boys skated harder in the first period than I’d seen them all post-season. They kept after it, knowing they’d need to take the lead early. First goal went to the Coyotes, thanks to tag team efforts by Pyatt and Hanzal. From there though, the rest of the first and second became a scrappy game of cat-and-mouse.
The second period boasted two more goals from each team, and the Coyotes showed some moxie in their efforts to stay in this post-season. Marc-Antoine Pouliot came up big and scored his first career playoff goal at 6:23 of the second. Pouliot didn’t score in 13 regular-season contests for the Coyotes this season, and hadn’t scored an NHL goal since April 2, 2010, when he played for Edmonton.
Play became quite sloppy in the third, but the Coyotes looked to be holding strong. The vibe on the ice was frantic. This frenzy grew and grew; from both teams- as if the Kings knew that letting the Coyotes win this one and gain confidence would prove fatal.
Third ended 3-3.
I received numerous text messages from friends having heart attacks, and several other concerned messages about how to prevent mine.
Within a short whirl-wind, OT became Dave Tippett’s worst nightmare. Things were heating up as Mike Smith lost his glove, Drew Doughty was wildly out of control, and the officiating… let’s just say that they lost control over the consistency of their calls in this game, heck, in this series.
Arguments emerged about penalties being called and not called from both sides. However none was as significant as the Dustin Brown hit. Brown’s hit on Coyotes Michal Rozsival in overtime is still a sore subject and debatable argument amongst Coyotes and Kings fans.
Even Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick have a battle of words over the subject-http://youtu.be/GRCuM0xhuAI
What happens seconds later, the next face off to be precise, is shocking and all too fast for Coyotes players and fans. The Kings win the face off and bring the puck down into the offensive zone, Carter takes a shot from the right side, and it pops back out in front of goalie Mike Smith. There seems to be a second where time stands still. Smith knows he is too far down. Dustin Penner is sitting right in the high slot, ready for the rebound. He scores. At 17:42 of overtime, the LA Kings take the win and eliminate the stunned Coyotes.
And so ensues one of the most awkward and heated handshakes seen in hockey. Coyotes Captain Shane Doan and teammate Martin Hanzal are still too fired up to nicely shake Dustin Brown’s hand. Words are exchanged, and the media has a field day with ‘Yotes and their post-game emotions.
Mike Smith explains the loss-
“It’s disappointing for a season to end like that. It stings. We gave it all we had. We battled hard all season long. It’s disappointing we not only got beat by them but got beat by the officials, too. It’s not just this game, it’s all season long. They did everything they could not to let us get to this position.
I’m not taking anything away from the Kings, they deserved to be here, they played hard and they were a tough opponent. But we battled as hard as we do to get to this point, and seemed like everyone was against us. We battled through adversity through a lot of things that went on. But the officiating … if you’re going to be reffing in the playoffs, it’s tough [with] some of the calls that weren’t made tonight.” (Taken from Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports)
This loss by the Coyotes, seemingly bitter and negative, was portrayed in a poor light due to the conditions of this last Game 5. There was still a lot to like about their postseason, but the ‘Yotes frustrations got the better of them.
In the end skill and speed won over tenacity and grit, and the LA Kings worked hard to earn their spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Despite the hurt and exasperation, I had a personal observation of the heart of the Phoenix Coyotes. After the game I waited outside the arena while catching up with a friend who drives the Zamboni, right near the exit tunnel of the players. There were about six fans lingering, and they waited a good couple hours, post-game for a chance to bid farewell to the Coyotes, and maybe a handshake and an autograph. To my surprise, several players stopped to acknowledge the fans for the support, or even giving an appreciative honk. These are not bandwagon fans mind you, I’ve probably seen those six fans faces at every game I’ve attended the last several years. The ‘Yotes knew that too, and even when they wanted to book it home and forget their frustrations (perhaps in a beer or two), they stopped and they said thank you.
Regardless of the outcome, some praise is well deserved for these desert dogs. As Sarah McLellan writer for The Arizona Republic said “That missed opportunity won’t define this team.” They might have gone home pretty banged up, but in time they will be able to reflect back on just how much their accomplishments trumped their shortcomings.
The Coyotes won their first Pacific Division title and made it to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history.
Mike Smith, the goaltender who materialized out of nowhere, had a banner year full of record-breaking numbers, and has emerged as a leader and motivator for this team. I think it’s fair to call him MVP.
Dave Tippett, a coach who is well-respected around the NHL, is proving that his system works and the way he handles his players is a method to be modeled after.
Shane Doan, Captain, highly-regarded player and man across the board, led this team to new heights. “Shane is priority No. 1,” Don Maloney said. “Once our ownership is settled, we plan to keep Shane. He’s not going anywhere if I have anything to do with it – within reason.” He added, “Once we have our ownership settled, we’ll immediately go after Shane and make sure we do everything we can to keep him a Coyote for the rest of his career. That’s a goal of mine.”
Martin Hanzal, Antoine Vermette, Radim Vrbata and Keith Yandle are locked up on multi-year deals with the Coyotes, and they have faith in Tippett to lead them to even bigger things next season.
For a perpetually underdog team on the verge of securing an owner and a competitive budget, that’s not a bad position to be in.
Everyone thought it was over. “Get those brooms out!” I kept hearing from Kings fans. Nay, I say. The Phoenix Coyotes will not go down so easily.
Game 4 was a scary one for Phoenix fans, but the Coyotes pulled out their first win in this Western Conference final series against the LA Kings. Behind Captain and born leader Shane Doan, the ‘Yotes managed a shutout- Smith’s third of the playoffs- 2-0 victory at Staples Center this afternoon.
A key factor that led to the Coyotes win was the reinstatement of lines. Ray Whitney, Martin Hanzal (who returned from a one-game suspension) and Radim Vrbata were reunited as was the second line of Mikkel Boedker, Antoine Vermette and Shane Doan. Adrian Aucoin was back on defense for the first time against the Kings and proved that he had been sorely needed.
As reported by Sarah McLellan of The Arizona Republic, Doan was a bulldog on the ice, willing the Coyotes to a fifth game, scoring both goals and playing 22:35 minutes. She stated about the game, “It seemed appropriate that what the Coyotes used to get this far would decide the outcome. And perhaps it wasn’t coincidence then that the Coyotes found success with what’s proved to work in the past.”
Game 5 will be back in Phoenix on Tuesday and the Coyotes will be playing hard in front of their White Out crowd for the chance of another trip back to California.
Special thanks to Twitter follower Ryan Sparks, @The_Real_Sparky, for a fabulous title suggestion.
I’m not going to cry about the officiating. I’m not titling this article “Coyotes Get Reffed”, although I like it and thought it brilliant last night when tweeted by my friend. Fact is the Coyotes didn’t play hard enough to win this game. The referees did not help this cause, but it was not BECAUSE of the refs the ‘Yotes lost.
Albeit the Phoenix Coyotes played better in Game 3 than in Game 2, it proved not good enough. The LA Kings won on home ice 2-1 last night giving them a 3-0 lead on this Western Conference Finals series.
It seems that the key component, or lack thereof, for the Coyotes in this series is shots on goal. Yet again the Kings outshot the ‘Yotes by a considerable amount. With only 8 SOG per period for Phoenix, it is statistically easy to see how the Kings won this game- LA finished 40 SOG last night. Smith is being far too heavily relied on and is becoming almost desperate- coming far out of his net and flopping around like Timmy Thomas, with less luck of stopping the puck.
Additionally important to consider after watching the Coyotes last night and taking in information that one can’t read from the score-sheet, is simply how this team looks. They are reaching. They have poor positioning. Their passing lacks crispness. Or maybe the Kings just seem so cohesive that it makes these poor hockey basics all the more apparent. Fact is, Phoenix is being outplayed. As individuals- Doan, Whitney, Langkow, Klesla- you can see the desire. As a team… it looks like it’s time for the Miracle speech. The Kings are playing this series as such a strong, unified team that it is going to be hard for the Coyotes to catch up.
Now, I understand that I may have biased opinions about the refereeing. However, as a hockey player I feel like I also have a good enough grasp on the game to know a good call and a bad call. I’m going to fully agree with Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett about the officiating. When asked his thoughts on the subject after last night’s loss, Tippett said, “If I told you what I really thought it would cost me a lot of money. Personally, and I’ve talked about this a lot, the game is turning a little dishonest.” He continued to talk about the embellishment of players, how it’s very hard for the referees, this diving puts them in a tough situation, and they have a hard job. “We saw more than one penalty for us and against us that I thought were plays where there was embellishment. It’s the reality of our game right now.” When the referees are inconsistent, the effects are felt from the top down and it causes frustration in everyone- coaches, players, fans, writers, etc. It’s subjective at best.
Game 4 for Sunday afternoon. It’s going to be extremely important for the Coyotes to stop playing as 23 individual 1-man wolf packs, or (humor me) “Coyotes packs”, and play as cohesively one 23-wolf pack. Stop the Kings offense. Play clean, physical hockey. Cover the rebounds in from of the net. Get the job done, hockey the hard way.
Surprisingly enough, the ice didn’t melt in the Phoenix desert, and Game 1 did in fact take place between the Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings.
The Kings won this opening series game 4-2 pretty easily, or so it seemed, having a 23 SOG advantage over the Coyotes.
Even after having a week off, the Coyotes looked weak. They knew it too. “This is the conference (finals). We didn’t play well enough for a regular season game,” said Captain Shane Doan.
Jerry Brown of NHL.com reported: “Hoping that a week of rest might cool down the NHL’s hottest team, Phoenix had all kinds of trouble keeping pace and didn’t match the effort from the opening faceoff.” Too true. The ‘Yotes held on through the first and second, but there is no denying they were out-hustled and too exhausted by the third to keep up.
Anze Kopitar had the first goal of the game with a tasty back-hander giving the Kings a 1-0 lead about seven minutes into the first.
The highlight moment for the Coyotes (had they won could have made this guy the “hero of the game”), was Derek Morris’ bomb from the red line. This 98-foot slap shot at 13:26 into the first period skimmed off the ice and sailed over Quick’s outstretched right pad to tie the score at 1-1.
Second period produced another goal from each team, Mike Richards for the Kings and Mikkel Boedker for the ‘Yotes.
It was this fatigued third in which the Coyotes sunk to the relentless Kings. Dustin Brown beat Smith stick side on a mini breakaway for his seventh goal of the playoffs making it a 3-2 game, followed by an empty-netter goal, ending this Game 1 with a 4-2 victory for the Kings.
Los Angeles is 9-1 in the playoffs and has won six games in a row on the road. On Tuesday the Kings will go for no. 7 in Game 2.
If you weren’t aware (read- live under a rock) that this little lady is a die-hard Phoenix Coyotes fan, then I’m stating so here, and doing it in a big way.
I cover the Coyotes as a contributing writer for Hooked on Hockey Magazine and post quite a bit about the ‘Yotes on my personal hockey blog. I’ve been following the team since their first game at America West Arena in Phoenix circa 1996. I was 8 years old. I fell head-over-heels in love with the Coyotes.
Now people are starting to pay attention to these boys. I appreciate that their success in the playoffs has sparked so much interest in those who had never before followed the desert dogs, but, there is always the debate over whether bandwagoners should be welcomed or cold-shouldered.
I’m inviting everyone, those who know what it’s like to sit at a Coyotes game when there are less than 5,000 people in attendance, and those who are buzzing about this team they know so little about (it’s okay, I forgive you), to watch me in all my ‘Yotes dedication fly back to my hometown and cover this series from ON-SITE.
Yes, there are some fantastic Coyotes writers who I encourage you to check out, including Dave Vest, Sarah McLellan (personal favorite), Dan Bickley, Jerry Brown, Carl Putnam, and John D’Anna. I also will be writing recaps of the ‘Yotes home games (fellow HOHM contributor John Orit will report on LA games), but moreso will be taking a personal, first-hand approach to this uncharted territory for the Coyotes in post-season play.
Think “Diary of a Hockey Kid”.
Tomorrow, Game 1 day, I’ll be landing at Sky Harbor Airport and beginning my coverage of the Coyotes quest for the Cup from the valley of the sun. Watch as I tweet my way through this series with updates that include pictures and video. Experience the action in Phoenix through my Coyotes-tinted glasses and see what hockey in the desert is really like.
Follow me on Twitter @MichelaRicci and keep your eye on @HOH_Magazine for updates!
Oh, and P.s. Since I’m flying home on Mother’s Day I’m going to try surprising my mom, and I thought my dad’s suggestion to keep the secret was pretty amusing. My mother, like many others, loves showing off her kids and therefore scours the internet/Facebook to keep up-to-date with what I’m doing. This would make it difficult to prevent her from seeing that I’m headed home, and so my dad told me he would unplug the router and tell her the internet is broken. Silliness… Hope she doesn’t find out! Shh…