GLENDALE, Ariz. – It's the most repeated mantra in Stanley Cup Playoff lingo: That series-closing, euphoria-bringing, fourth win is the hardest to get.
In the case of the Phoenix Coyotes, however, hard has become downright impossible.
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"I know better than anyone it's the hardest to win," said Phoenix captain Shane Doan, who has been in Arizona for all 15 seasons and helped the Coyotes to the playoffs eight times, "Because I’ve never done it."
Or to paraphrase Coyotes' most famous fan, Alice Cooper, "Welcome to Our Nightmare."
Since moving to Arizona in 1996, the Coyotes have had seven chances to win one hockey game and earn the first-round playoff series win that has eluded them since 1987. That is seven chances to bring down the curtain take another step toward the Stanley Cup and energize a wait-and-see fan base in the desert.
After Saturday night's 2-1 overtime loss to Chicago in Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, the Coyotes are now 0-for-7.
Phoenix had a 3-2 series lead against Anaheim in 1997 and couldn't put away Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne. The Coyotes were up 3-1 against St. Louis in 1999 but were singing the Blues after a three-loss collapse, including a 1-0 overtime loss in Game 7. They forced a Game 7 at home against Detroit in 2010, only to suffer a 6-1 loss.
And Saturday, when the Coyotes took a 1-0 lead to the third period – the kind of lead they failed to carry home only once in 34 tries during the regular season – they couldn't seal the deal against the Blackhawks. Jonathan Toews' goal 2:44 into overtime kept his team alive and sent the series back to Chicago, where Phoenix will have an eighth opportunity to clinch a series and snap a string of 13 straight playoff series losses dating back to the Winnipeg Jets of 1987.
Six of the Coyotes' seven series-clinching opportunities have come on home ice. Saturday's game was the fourth of those games that went to overtime. Each time, the deciding goal wound up in their net.
Doan had a shorthanded chance to score the game-winner in the final five minutes of regulation, but was able to unleash a shot – something that stayed with him after Game 5.
"You want to find ways to win at home for your fans, but they played incredibly and we didn't play as well as we needed to," Doan said. "But we're pretty comfortable playing on the road and we did just beat them twice in their building. We've bounced back from losses all season and come back with strong efforts."
The Coyotes have played tight defensive game in this series, holding the Blackhawks to just two goals in four of the five games. Goalie Mike Smith has ranged from solid to spectacular and two of the last four goals he's allowed have come off pucks that were redirected by his own teammates.
With a chance to eliminate the Blackhawks and advance, fourth-liner Gilbert Brule had the only Phoenix goal in Game 5 and the Coyotes failed to capitalize on four minor penalties taken by Chicago's Viktor Stalberg and generated only five shots in eight minutes with the man-advantage.
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One of the worst power-play units in the League all season, Phoenix's 2-for-15 success rate in the series isn't surprising. But sapping the energy out of a crowd that came to celebrate in Game 5 was disappointing.
"You'd like to see your power play go out there and build some momentum for you," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "We struggled with our execution. They were coming hard. That was their season on the line, so you knew they were going to come hard."
And if Phoenix doesn't close out the Blackhawks in Game 6, its season will be on the line – in a ninth chance to win a series – in a Game 7, on home ice – on Wednesday night. It's a cushion the Coyotes don't mind having, but would rather not use.
"You want to close it out as soon as possible," Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle said. "You want to go in there and play in their building like it is a Game 7. They're a team that's been there, they won the Stanley Cup recently (in 2010), so we got to play hard and see what we can do."