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Off the Post: Coyotes Are Well Suited for Playoffs

by Luke Lapinski / Arizona Coyotes
GLENDALE -- In case you hadn’t noticed, the Coyotes seem to deal with more than their fair share of drama. So you might think they’d catch a break and play someone a little easier in the first round of the playoffs. Instead, they get the Red Wings. Let’s just raise the stakes a little higher, shall we?

That said, I’ve spent this whole season telling anyone who would listen that this Coyotes team is potentially better suited for a playoff run than even the group that set franchise highs in, well, everything last year. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least back that stance up with some factors that could work in the Coyotes’ favor as we head into the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs...

Photo by Getty Images.
DOAN: Believe it or not, people actually tried to convince me that a healthy Shane Doan wouldn’t have made the slightest difference in last year’s series with Detroit. People I respected; friends even. If that were the case, why even have him on the roster? Naturally, I lost respect for those people and now I just make a habit of talking about them behind their backs in various hockey blogs whenever possible. Because two wrongs make a right.

Whatever your stance, it’s undeniable that last year’s series was about as even as possible and one team was missing their captain. Now that captain has full use of both his shoulders.
Advancing in the playoffs consumes him. Ask him what he wants for lunch and he’ll probably tell you “to get this franchise past the first round”. We’ll never know if a healthy #19 would’ve swayed last year’s outcome, but at least we get to see what he can do now.

DEFENSE: I get it – Phoenix gave up more goals this year than last. They also dealt with more injuries than Doug at the end of ‘The Hangover’ after he’d been left on the roof for two days. Thing is, they’re actually getting healthy now at just the right time. Don Maloney made two trades this season aimed directly at making this defense a wall during the playoffs and suddenly the Coyotes head into the postseason with depth on an extremely experienced blueline. Five of the top six defensemen have an average of 841 career NHL games under their belt and the other is named Keith Yandle. I’ll take my chances. And if I just spoiled the end of “The Hangover” for you, I apologize. But the movie’s been out two years now so I don’t feel that bad. While I have you here, Bruce Willis isn’t alive in the Sixth Sense and the Rock always wins in every movie he’s in. Moving on…

Photo by Getty Images.
EXPERIENCE: You can’t put a value on what this team went through last year against the Red Wings. That series was grueling, inspiring, and crushing all at once - kind of like the song “Friday” by Rebecca Black. It was also the ultimate learning experience. Hockey isn’t like other sports. Rarely does a team come out of nowhere and make a deep playoff run without taking their lumps first. Phoenix took their lumps last season – and still almost won. Now they’re a year wiser and it shows. And they’ve added battle-tested vets like Ray Whitney and Eric Belanger at key positions.

THE BEST OF THE WEST: Take the Sharks out of the equation and Phoenix was 21-10-5 against the other playoff teams from the West this season. Not bad. And the main knock on this group is that they sometimes seem to play down to the level of their opponents. Now there’s no one left to play ‘down’ to. All that remains is the best of the best, and those are the teams the Coyotes tend to rise up against.

IDENTITY: The best teams know who they are at this point in the season. They play to their strengths and address whatever shortcomings they might have in a hurry. With a team identity that everyone buys into, you can adjust on the fly when the situation calls for it without abandoning the characteristics that got you this far. Make no mistake, not everyone in these playoffs is completely comfortable with who they are yet. But some teams get it and Phoenix is one of them.

Luke Lapinski
Twitter: @LukeLapinski
On top of all this, the Coyotes still possess the characteristics that made them dangerous last season: the leadership in the locker room, their trademark resiliency and ability to block out unwanted distractions, the brilliant tactical and motivational skills of the coaching staff, and the ability of Ilya Bryzgalov to take over a game on his own. Those assets haven’t left them. In fact, that last quality might prove to be the most important of all.

The Coyotes don’t fear the Red Wings - in fact, part of me thinks they might quietly relish an opportunity to avenge last year’s series - but Detroit is an elite team so it may all come down to Bryzgalov. And when the “Russian Bear” is on his game, the only thing more dangerous to the opposition might be having an actual live bear from Russia in the net. Stay tuned. Now is when the real fun starts.
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