GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Shane Doan sat in the home dressing room of Jobing.com Arena on Tuesday night, trying to process what had just happened.
It was less than 20 minutes after Dustin Penner had shoveled a rebound past heroic Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith to give the Los Angeles Kings a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final. Before the red-goal light even had a chance to flicker, Doan knew his dream of winning a Stanley Cup had died yet again.
This time, however, it did not die before the postseason had even started, as it has seven times in his career, including a soul-numbing six-year stretch between 2003 and 2009. It didn't end in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs another seven times. No, this time, it ended in the last week of May with his team just one step removed from the Stanley Cup Final before the Coyotes' captain tasted the disappointment that haunts every hockey player.
And, it hurt.
It hurt perhaps more than any of the physical trials he has put his body through in chasing the dream he has nurtured since his formative days as a hockey-obsessed boy in hockey-mad Alberta, Canada. That dream, so unreachable in those days, has never wavered in the 1,198 regular-season games Doan has played. It never wavered through all the disappointments and early exits, never diminished by injuries or franchise relocation chatter.
But, falling short never hurt like this.
For Doan, there was no solace in the fact that he had journeyed further down the path to Stanley Cup glory than ever before, giving Coyotes fans a spring that won't soon be forgotten. No, Doan is 35 now, and the hockey miles on his body have been hard. He knows all too well that he may never get the opportunity he and his teammates had just forfeited with a breakdown in the defensive zone with 2:18 left in the first overtime.
"You appreciate it, but it doesn't feel any better than getting knocked out in the first round," Doan said, staring straight ahead, looking above the heads of the media that surrounded him. "It doesn't feel any better right now. Maybe in the future, you'll appreciate it, but right now you don't."
Right now, there is nothing but raw emotion for Doan.
As the game ended, Doan raced out to confront one of the referees, angered by several calls he believed went against the team, none more so than the hit Dustin Brown delivered on Michal Rozsival just seconds before the Kings scored their winning goal.
Doan and several other Coyotes believed that Brown had delivered the check late and also hit the veteran defenseman in the knee. Rozsival was helped off the ice and did not return.
For several minutes of his post-game comments, Doan railed against the officials, consumed by the emotion coursing through his body.
He believed the refs erred on their interpretation of the Brown incident, as well as on several other calls in Game 5 -- and throughout the series. But, Doan also knew that the Kings won this series fair and square, taking all three games here and jumping out to a 3-0 series lead before his Coyotes truly entered the fray.
In the end, he found a temporary detente as he worked through his emotions before a phalanx of cameras and tape recorders. The true acceptance will be a while longer in arriving.
"That's what I get so emotional about; Rosie is one of the guys we are close with, everyone's close with," Doan said. "You see a guy go off like that. I got a five-minute major for bumping a guy [in Game 2]. It is just one of those things, you give [the Kings] credit.
"I don't want to take anything away from them. They beat us. Their players played unbelievable. You look at [Anze] Kopitar, you look at [Mike] Richards, you look at [Jeff] Carter, that [Dwight] King, he played unbelievable. Jarrett Stoll played great. [Drew] Doughty was unbelievable. [Jonathan] Quick was great. They were so well-coached. They are a great team and they are rolling right now."
But, even admitting that did little to ease the pain.
The Phoenix coach, Dave Tippett, has endured his fair share of disappointment during his hockey career. He has lost big games. He has lost jobs. He has cursed the hockey gods far more than he has praised them. But, he has always resumed the chase.
Should Doan re-sign with the club this summer, Tippett knows that his captain -- and the rest of the Coyotes -- will resume the chase for the Cup anew next fall. Because, in the end, that is what hockey players like Doan do. It is what defines them.
But, first, there will be a grieving process, he says.
"You know, it's too bad it ends so suddenly like that tonight," Tippett said. "There will be some frustration for a few days. But, ultimately, I think our players should look back and feel good about a lot of the things that they accomplished this year.
"The frustration will go away and the building of a new team for next year will start very soon. You know, I just think these guys here should be really -- I think the amount that this team gave to get us to this spot I don't think should be taken lightly or forgotten easily. This is an incredible group."
Some day, hopefully soon, those words will hit home for Doan.
Then, the healing can truly begin.
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