SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The path Mikkel Boedker took to his second straight, game-winning playoff overtime goal couldn't have been more direct.
Scampering straight ahead with a turnover, the Phoenix Coyotes' 22-year-old speedster fought off two Chicago defenders and forced the puck past goalie Corey Crawford through a spot of daylight he still yet to see. The result was a 3-2 win, a 3-1 Phoenix lead in their Western Conference Quarterfinal series and a place for Boedker in NHL history as one of only eight players with back-to-back OT goals in the same series.
"We looked at it a couple of times on the bus [back to the hotel], and I guess it went in off my forehand," Boedker said of Thursday night's winner. "That wasn't the plan. But if I did what I planned, maybe it doesn't go in, so I'll stick with whatever happened."
One of only seven Danish players to reach the NHL, Boedker's path to that day was far from direct.
After coming to Calgary for a tournament with his Swedish youth team in 2007, Boedker fell in love with Canadian junior hockey and made the jump at age 17. He played a season with the Kitchener Rangers and raised eyebrows with 29 goals in the regular season and 35 points in 20 Memorial Cup playoff games.
"I watched some Calgary Hitmen games when I was there for the tournament and knew right away that league was something I had to try," Boedker said. "The decision was easy for me. And I'm happy I did it."
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The Coyotes took him with the eighth pick in the first round in 2008 – and then-coach Wayne Gretzky thrust him right into the lineup on a talent-strapped team that offered little support or guidance to a slew of young guns, including Peter Mueller and Kyle Turris.
The 19-year-old Boedker scored 11 goals in 79 games and loved every minute of it.
But when Dave Tippett took over for Gretzky in 2009, he decided that his young guns needed more seasoning. Turris took it as a demotion and got little out of an AHL season in San Antonio; the Coyotes wound up trading him to Ottawa midway through this season. Boedker used his AHL stint as a learning experience and built his game in Texas in 100 games over two seasons.
"You always want it right away. I was thankful to Wayne that I got a chance early," Boedker said. "But when Tip came in, he tried to take some heat off of us and he sent us down wanting us to learn the game. It was hard, but it's paying off now.
"I'm glad I played in the AHL. It's not an easy league to play in." he said. "You can't take it for granted and say ‘I'm going to tear this league up' because there are so many talented players who are hungry and trying to prove themselves. I proved I was ready for the NHL and this time to stay."
One of his Kitchener teammates was Spencer Anderson, son of former NHL player John Anderson – and when John Anderson joined Tippett's staff before this season, Boedker gained a friend, confidant and mentor. Anderson had five 30-goal seasons during his 17-year career and brought a scorer's mentality that was perfect for a player looking to expand his game.
"Mikkel is so fast and those huge legs are so powerful – my son calls him ‘Quad-Zilla' – all the tools are there," Anderson said. "We talk about time with the puck on the ice, position and control. We want him to use that speed but change the pace so you're not skating into the corners and away from where you want to be and making the most of your talents."
Boedker had 11 goals again this season, but finished strong after Anderson lobbied for Tippett to use him in shootouts down the stretch. He was successful in four of nine attempts in the tiebreaker, and that kindled a passion to look for his shot more.
He scored in each of the last two games of the regular season and in the playoffs, he has taken over for the injured Lauri Korpikoski on the penalty kill and alongside Taylor Pyatt and Boyd Gordon on a two-way line that has been Phoenix's best in this series.
And then of course, there are those two OT winners.
"We all know how much skill and talent Bods has and he's filling an important void for us," goalie Mike Smith said. "We would have been happy for any guy who scored overtime goals like that, but a player like Bods … it's extra special because you know what it might mean. This could be his coming-out party."
The trip to Chicago is one Boedker will never forget, even if neither of his OT goals were things of beauty. The winning goal in Game 3 was a shot from a very sharp angle that somehow found a tiny spot between Crawford and the post, and the Game 4 shot is still under internal investigation, so he's not ready to assume sniper status just yet.
"It's important to keep calm, keep your feet on the ground and not get too cocky," he said. "My personality helps with that. I'm a level-headed guy and the older guys in the room will make sure I stay that way. I just want to keep the confidence these goals have given and make sure I'm looking for more chances to score."