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Coyotes v Blackhawks - 2012 Stanley Cup Conference Quarterfinals

Coyotes plan on beating the odds again in playoffs

Jerry Brown - Correspondent

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With the first division title in franchise history and home ice in the first round of the playoffs secure, Phoenix Coyotes fans are already showing a few symptoms of Stanley Cup fever.

More than 300 fans were waiting well past midnight for the Coyotes charter to land at Sky Harbor International Airport after Saturday's division-clinching win at Minnesota. Captain Shane Doan was high-fiving fans from the window of his truck while goalie Mike Smith and defenseman Keith Yandle traded smiles and handshakes with the faithful insomniacs.

But odds makers aren't as impressed with Phoenix's strong finish and high seed. They ranked the Coyotes last among the 16 teams when it comes to chance of winning the Stanley Cup. Many are picking the Chicago Blackhawks to send Phoenix home in the first round for the eighth straight time since moving to Arizona -- and history is on their side.

The last time the franchise won a playoff series, it was located in Winnipeg and Ronald Reagan was president (1986-87). Now, 23 years and 12 playoff failures later -- including three Game 7 losses, two of them on home ice -- the Coyotes will try it again, this time with division banner in tow.

Toews practices in regular spot; Game 1 a possibility

Brian Hedger - Correspondent

"I'm feeling more confident that Thursday might be the day, but we'll see when that time comes." -- Jonathan Toews

CHICAGO -- Nothing is official yet, but Chicago captain Jonathan Toews seemed to take another step Monday toward returning from a concussion to play in Game 1 of the Blackhawks' first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN).

Toews skated in his usual spot at practice, centering the Chicago Blackhawks' top line, with Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa as his wingers. It's the first time he's done that since leaving the lineup with a concussion and missing the final 22 games of the regular season.

Ekman-Larsson at his best heading into playoffs

Jerry Brown - Correspondent

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- One year ago, although his talent was apparent and his future ultra-bright, the Coyotes decided Oliver Ekman-Larsson wasn't quite ready for the NHL.

One year later, after finishing his first full regular season in Phoenix logging 22 minutes a night and in the top five in goal scoring among defensemen, soon the question might be whether the League is ready for Ekman-Larsson.

The soft-spoken, 20-year-old Swede is starting to outgrow his facial comparisons to Harry Potter and has now established himself an all-situation, top-flight defenseman -- and if his play during Phoenix's stretch run to the playoffs is any indication, he's ready to play a major role in his first Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Ekman-Larsson finished fifth among all defensemen with 13 goals this season, and had five of them during a 10-game, late-season surge when his team needed them the most. He finished the season with 32 points and a label as one of the best young blueliners in the league.

Why Phoenix will win the Cup

Brian Compton - Deputy Managing Editor

Overcoming adversity is always a hurdle to be cleared before achieving greatness. The Phoenix Coyotes have done nothing but clear hurdles during the past three seasons, and it won't be long before it all comes full circle as they are crowned 2012 Stanley Cup champions.


The Big Why: You can't win a championship without goaltending and a stingy defense. The Coyotes have both.

Not only has Mike Smith filled the void (and then some) left by the departure of Ilya Bryzgalov, but he's emerged as one of the League's more consistent goaltenders. Smith, 30, reached the 30-win plateau for the first time in his career and was dominant down the stretch to help the Coyotes clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Why Chicago will win the Cup

Dan Rosen - Senior Writer

When hot, Chicago is almost unbeatable. When cold, the Blackhawks are full of holes and might as well be playing with a soccer net behind them.

Their ability to raise the temperature and keep it hot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs will come down to goaltending, just like it has all season.

The Big Why: Corey Crawford will likely be Chicago's Game 1 starter. How well he plays might determine if he starts Game 2.

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