GLENDALE, Ariz. – It was more than a goal he squeezed past Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne's pads, and the importance and emotions was far from lost on the goal scorer.
For Shane Doan, the goal he scored on Wednesday night was worth waiting for – well, almost.
Doan's first goal in more than two months not only ended his own personal scoring drought at 23 games, it sealed a 5-2 win over the Predators that earned Doan's Phoenix Coyotes home ice in the playoff for the first time since 1999 – when Doan was a 23-year-old forward playing on a line with Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick and taking his third straight trip to the postseason for granted.
When Doan last scored, on Jan. 31 in Dallas – before the Olympics and before anyone thought the Coyotes had 100-plus-point potential – just reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in eight years was the sole focus. By Wednesday, Doan's put-back of a Wojtek Wolski shot wrapped up Phoenix's 49th win of the season and insured that first playoff game will before a sold-out, "White Out" at Jobing.com Arena, the scene of sparse crowds that could be counted by hand when the season began.
"It was getting to be an awful long time, and it was big to get one," Doan said. "When you're not scoring things seem to be a bit harder. Hopefully things will be a bit easier for me."
After the goal, Doan was knocked to the ice, but didn't mind where it left him. He had an instant to lie on his back, look skyward and soak in the moment before being mobbed by four teammates who acted as if they had just scored themselves.
Defenseman Keith Yandle skated up, grabbed the invisible monkey that had been riding the captain's back for nine weeks, and tossed it aside. "Yands said he saw it running," said Doan, sheepish but satisfied with the result. "Obviously I needed to get one. I don't have to think about it anymore. But the guys have been great about (the drought) and helped me not worry too much."
Phoenix coach Dave Tippett, who smiles the on the bench about as often as Doan has scored lately, couldn't hide his emotions regarding his captain as the Coyotes wrapped up a franchise-record 29 wins at home with their seventh in a row.
"Seeing him vertical on the ice like that, looking up at the rafters … that probably says it all right there," Tippett said. "But the unbelievable thing about Shane Doan is every day he is thankful that we're winning, and that he's going to have a chance to play in the playoffs.
"If you told him Shane you're not going to score for 24 game but you're going to get home ice in the playoffs he'd be the first one to line up and say, ‘I'm in.' This is a special time for him and it's a long-time coming. There's not a guy in the (dressing) room that wouldn't sacrifice something for the good of the group. That atmosphere comes from great leadership and Shane is the leader."
With two games to play Doan is still two goals shy of scoring 20 for the 11th consecutive season. The last time he didn't reach 20 was 1998-99 -- the last time the Coyotes opened a Stanley Cup run at home. But Tippett knows that as the games get bigger, his captain will too.
"I still think Shane's going to be a very valuable player for us in the playoffs," he said. "He scores hard goals and that's the kind of goals that are scored in the playoffs. That's the way it should pan out for him."