GLENDALE -- With the greatest season in Phoenix Coyotes history now fully in the rear-view mirror, the time has come to look back one last time before moving forward. And since roughly two weeks have passed since the gut-wrenching conclusion (in overtime of course), I’m fairly certain I can do this now without letting emotion take over too much. So, I give to you the top five moments from the Coyotes’ 2011-12 postseason run, in chronological order - because this isn’t a Quentin Tarantino film.
1. April 17 and 19: Boedker's overtime heroics vs Chicago.
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Most young players need a confidence boost from a strong performance at a key moment to really take their career to a new level. The thing is, most young players don't score back-to-back overtime game-winners in arguably the biggest playoff series in franchise history to get it. That's what Mikkel Boedker did though. The first came during Game 3 in Chicago when he fired the puck at a dazed Corey Crawford from the corner. Future generations will point to this play as an example of why coaches (and fans) pull their hair out and scream for their players to just put the puck on net in close games. The second came two nights later when he used his trademark speed to break out and push the puck past Crawford. In the span of about 48 hours, Phoenix grabbed a 3-1 series lead, Boedker had delivered two defining moments, and Blackhawks fans were staring at Crawford the same way the Cleary family stared at Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in “Wedding Crashers” when they found out they were impostors.
2. April 23: Phoenix advances past Round 1 for the first time. Ever.
Ironically, this memorable moment took place a) on the road and b) in a game where the Coyotes were outshot 16-2 in the first period and 28-8 after two. The Blackhawks had to have this game and they showed up in a big way. Then again, so did Coyotes goalie Mike Smith. As he did all year long, he delivered a shutout when Phoenix needed a win most. And his strong play in goal gave the guys in front of him a much-needed jolt. When the dust settled, the Desert Dogs had their most lopsided victory of the postseason, the franchise had finally broken through that first-round wall, and captain Shane Doan had a smile on his face for two days.
3. April 29: The Coyotes light up a Vezina candidate.
Not many teams get to Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne. But Phoenix did exactly that on a few occasions this season. In Game 2 of the second round series with the Predators, the Coyotes produced one of their most complete efforts of the playoffs, building off a Game 1 victory to oust the Predators 5-3. By the end of this one, Dave Tippett’s group had defended home ice, grabbed a commanding 2-0 series lead over a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, and put nine goals past Rinne in two games. In fact, they scored three or more goals on Rinne in five of their first six meetings this season.
4. May 4: Mike Smith at his finest.
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One of the best aspects to Smith’s emergence this season was his ability to rise up in pressure situations. Never was that more evident than in Game 4 of the Nashville series. The Preds had finally picked up a win in the previous contest, Rinne was looking sharp again, and the series could very well have been tied 2-2 heading back to Glendale. Instead, Smith decided it was time for the Coyotes to go up 3-1, so he slammed the door to the tune of a 1-0 shutout. Just like that. And just to drive my point home in case you don’t believe me for some reason, Smith had 11 shutouts this season. Seven came in outings right after he had suffered a loss and needed to bounce back. Two others came in the middle of his 11-game February winning streak and the last two came as part of a back-to-back-to-back shutout run he put together to help the club grab the Pacific Division title at the end of the season. Oh yeah, nine of those shutouts came against playoff teams. Not bad for an under-the-radar free agent acquisition.
5. May 20: Doan’s will to win.
Yes, I understand that Los Angeles took this series. But the Coyotes’ victory in Game 4 was still big. It came on the heels of a controversial Game 3 loss and showed that the guys on this team truly did believe in each other and still thought they could rally. Plus it took place in hostile territory and brought the series back to Jobing.com Arena so hockey fans in Arizona could have a chance to see their team once again to cap off this amazing season. The fact that the captain scored both goals in a 2-0 victory is only fitting.
Honorable Mention: The goal that Derek Morris put past Jonathan Quick from somewhere near Peoria in Game 1 of the LA series was startling, baffling, hilarious and memorable all at once. The best part, of course, was the fact that Mo made sure to fire every dump-in right on Quick for the rest of the series.