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Coyotes looking to clinch playoff spot Saturday

Friday, 03.26.2010 / 12:38 PM / NHL Insider

By John Manasso - NHL.com Correspondent

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Coyotes looking to clinch playoff spot Saturday
The Coyotes could clinch a playoff spot Saturday in front a sellout crowd.
As members of the Phoenix Coyotes drifted in and out the visiting locker room at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena Thursday following their optional skate, a team official had written a reminder on the marker board inside.

Phoenix's home game Saturday against Colorado -- where the Coyotes a chance to clinch the franchise's first playoff appearance since 2002 -- was likely to sell out. The implication was that if players wanted to purchase tickets for friends and family for the game, even they had better hurry up.

The Coyotes and their fans might have plenty to celebrate Saturday. The team has announced that playoff tickets will go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m. MDT. It also is planning a white out -- "We're Rolling Out the White Carpet."

But earlier in the day, another game on the other side of the continent could ensure that the Coyotes clinch a playoff berth before they hit the ice. Calgary, the West's ninth-place team, visits Boston at 1 p.m. EDT. Anything but a victory by the Flames would mean that Phoenix is in.

Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who is only the 24th player in NHL history to play at least 1,000 games with the same franchise that drafted him, talked about what the playoffs would mean to him before Thursday's 4-3 shootout loss in Nashville.

"It's something that, like I said, you play the 82 games to have a chance to play the extra ones. I've been watching playoff hockey for a long time, so I'd love to be involved in some." -- Coyotes captain Shane Doan

"It's something that, like I said, you play the 82 games to have a chance to play the extra ones," he said. "I've been watching playoff hockey for a long time, so I'd love to be involved in some."

The sellout likely will be the second straight at Jobing.com Arena. Doan said the fans have begun to support the team in greater numbers despite an offseason that included a bankruptcy declaration, reports of an attempt to relocate the team, a court battle for control of the team (eventually secured by the NHL) and the hiring of coach Dave Tippett after the start of training camp to replace Wayne Gretzky.

This all comes despite an inauspicious schedule for the Coyotes, who have played only eight home games since Jan. 30. Half of those dates have attracted crowds of 15,883 or better and the team has averaged 16,127 over its last three.

"Since Christmas, really, we've only had one game that it's been a suspect crowd and I think it was against St. Louis right after the Olympic break and it was midweek and we hadn't been playing for a while," Doan said. "There really hadn't been any talk about us for a while, but I think we've sold out or come close to selling out the last three or four games in a row and supposedly the next game is sold out and that's what makes it fun."

Doan then addressed the necessity of winning to draw crowds and talked about the notion of what makes a "hockey town."

"You look at Chicago," he said. "You look at how dismal their attendance was and how bad it was. And that's a hockey town. If you talk to people, everyone says Chicago's a hockey town. Everyone says that. And when they weren't making the playoffs -- and they had had pretty good success in the '90s. They went to the Cup with the one team against Pittsburgh. They had been to the conference finals two or three times.

"And then they started losing and they lost for a few years and, I mean, no one was there. Two years later, it's sold-out crowds. Our sport's such an incredible sport to watch live. If you win, I think most cities will support it, but if you don't win ..."

But the Coyotes are winning and are 9-1-1 in their last 11, placing them fourth in the West and just two points out of first place in both the Pacific Division and the conference.

Tippett said, in a way, this team -- picked by some experts to be the worst in the League -- has not exceeded his expectations.

"You know what? As your group grows, early on, I saw some real good signs from our team that they were a really coachable group that they were motivated to do well," he said. "Part of that motivation is because of the off-ice situation. They were very responsive to play a certain style that, as coaches, we thought we had to play to be successful.

"And we've continued to grow in that. Our group, I really like the way our group has continued to come along. [General Manager Don Maloney] gave us a great boost at the trade deadline. To add some players -- basically add depth that we were a little short of. Our group really grasped that as a real positive sign and ran with it."

All the way to the playoffs.
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