No matter where you watched the game, chances are you heard the same storyline about the Phoenix Coyotes: “Ownership struggles, Summer of bankruptcy court, No coach for training camp, coach steps down, predicted to finish low, surprise everyone and make the playoffs.”
Whichever way you slice it and no matter how many times you hear it, it’s still a feel good story and probably one of the best ‘feel good stories’ in sports in a very long time.
The Phoenix Coyotes have had such a roller coaster ride of a season that was filled with excitement and shock, and that magnificent season came to an abrupt end Tuesday night when the Detroit Red Wings literally curb-stomped the Coyotes 6-1 to advance to the second round of the NHL Playoffs.
Very few people in their wildest dreams would have thought the Coyotes would be in the playoffs this year, much less holding home-ice advantage against the two-time Western Conference Champion Detroit Red Wings and taking them to the seventh game.
But game seven showed who the true dominant force was, and game seven showed which team was ready for a do or die scenario, and that team is continuing on to the second round for the fourth consecutive year.
This is not a time to ramble on and on about the negatives of the game (there were too many, winky face) because anyone who saw the game knows that the Coyotes just weren’t ready to face the Red Wings in an elimination game.
Right now is a time to reflect on the positives of this season and admire how special this season really was for not just for the fans in Arizona, but for the sport of hockey itself in Arizona.
From the drop of the puck it was painfully obvious which team was not going to rely on their goaltender in order to try and squeak by with a 1-0 victory (the Red Wings).
Ilya Bryzgalov did what he could knowing that without captain Shane Doan in the lineup again, he would be looked at to provide the energy for the Coyotes by not allowing any pucks past him. One period and 17 shots later, Bryzgalov was showing he was not intimidated by the Winged Wheel and that he may be that source of energy for this triumphant Coyotes group.
Two periods and 33 more shots after that, and it showed that the Coyotes did not have the skill to keep up with the Red Wings and were putting too much weight on the shoulders of Ilya Bryzgalov.
If the voting for MVP started after the first round of the playoffs, it is almost a no-brainer as to why Bryzgalov truly is the Most Valuable Player to his team. The entire night was spent playing defense for Phoenix, but with the lack of true skill to match Detroit, they had no other choice.
The six goals scored may have seemed like Bryzgalov had a bad game, but had any other goaltender been in net, it could have easily been a double-digit goal differential.
The Coyotes have won all year by sticking with a system of defensive hockey while using role players to provide some occasional offense. The system works extremely well for most teams, but the Red Wings are not like most teams.
Playing a defensive system against Detroit is like backing a rattlesnake into a corner. You can use size and intimidation to frighten it and keep it on its toes, but just when you think you have overpowered the snake and you have it right where you want it, the little bastard strikes you and literally ENDS YOUR LIFE!!
And that is how this series played out.
The Coyotes kept with the Red Wings the entire series despite being seen as heavy underdogs, and using their defense to negate the Wings’ star players, the ‘Yotes were able to embarrass the Wings in their home barn.
They had overpowered them, beaten them in their hometown to force a game seven, and put the team right where the Coyotes wanted them. And just as quickly as a rattlesnake strikes, the Red Wings had dismantled the White-Outed Phoenix crowd and struck midnight for the Cinderella Coyote squad.
It is hard to imagine that this season of such magic has finally come to an end, and for anyone to say they are glad that Phoenix is finally out of the picture, I’m pretty sure you have no soul.
There was no reason to cheer against the Coyotes (unless your team was the Detroit Red Wings) as this team never backed down when facing an obviously more skilled team.
This team had such a big case of ‘Little Man-Syndrome’ (no-pun intended), it made Joe Pesci look like giant teddy bear.
On paper, this team was without a doubt one of the worst teams in the league, but with a properly executed strategy, this group of over-achievers stood up to every ‘favorite’ team, every all-star riddled team, and every team that looked down at them as an easy match-up and played a full 60 minutes, never giving up, and making believers out of everybody.
Hopefully, this group of players can return to the same form next season, and there are high hopes for it since the coach will be returning, the ownership debacle will be over with and resolved, and this team never did show signs of slowing down (with the exception of game 7) during the entire season.
Until then, we Coyote fans must now sit back, soak in the fact that our team was just in the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons, and hope that this can be a sign of positive things to come for this franchise for many, many more years.
Thanks for this tremendously emotional and joyful season, Coyotes. Next year, we shoot for Round 2!!!
GO Yotes GO!!!
About the Author
Written by Matt Shott
22 year old hockey fan born and raised in Phoenix, AZ. Weird, huh? Entire family minus myself and my brother were born in Toronto, ON so thats how I became a fan of this great sport. I have worked at Ice rinks since I was 14 and spend all day reading hockey stories. I eat, sleep, coach, play, and basically LIVE hockey. I became a Red Wing fan thanks to EA Sports NHL '95 and haven't looked back since (Why would I?). Parents were Season Ticket holders for the Phoenix Coyotes since day 1 and when they moved to Portland 3 years ago, I picked up where they left off and have found a soft spot for them. I moved to Toronto in January '10 to attend Centennial College's Sports Journalism program, so I am becoming a Maple Leafs fan in the process. Its hard to do after 16 years of being a Red Wings fan. So to recap: Wings fan at heart, Leafs fan on the outside, and always carry a soft spot for the Coyotes.