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For Coyotes, all going according to plan

by Brian Compton / NHL.com
DETROIT -- The Phoenix Coyotes know they're a good hockey team. What others think really doesn't matter to them.

Despite racking up 50 victories and 107 points during a remarkable regular season, most prognosticators picked them to lose this best-of-seven series against the Detroit Red Wings, who are gunning for their third-straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

But three games into this series, the Coyotes have a 2-1 lead. Some may be surprised by that fact, but they're not.

"It's a motivating factor for us," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said after his team skated at Joe Louis Arena Monday afternoon. "There're a lot of great players around this League, but I'm a firm believer that you've got to be a team to win. Our guys genuinely like each other. They like being a team. There're very few egos. We all recognize what we have to do. I don't think we feel like we're behind anybody else. We are who we are and this is how we're going to play. We'll see if we can get our results."

Results are exactly what Tippett has received from the Coyotes, who dealt with ownership issues last summer and in training camp and were picked by many to miss the playoffs for an eight-straight year. Tippett, who wasn't even hired to coach the club until Sept. 24, was asked what his response would have been on that day if someone had told him the Coyotes would have a 2-1 series lead against the Red Wings seven months later.

"Boy, I'd be anxious for Game 4, wouldn't I?" Tippett joked. "It's been a fun year. From a coach's perspective, you like to see a team grow. With our staff and with the players, it's been a fun year to watch the progress of the team coming together. The players have played so hard. We turned the adversity into a motivating factor instead of a detriment."

Tippett, who was fired by the Dallas Stars after last season, has brought stability to an organization that was in desperate need of it. Just when some expect him to shake things, whether it be with lines or ice time or anything else, the coach's ability to stay the course has the players believing in each other. It's arguably the biggest reason why they have a chance to pull within a game of advancing to the second round when they face Detroit in Game 4 
Tuesday night (6:30 p.m. ET, TSN).

"We play a system," forward Robert Lang said. "We play the same way from the beginning of the season until now. Nothing really changed drastically. I think that's been the biggest change."

Another big change was evident on March 3, when the Coyotes had a much different approach than in years past on trade deadline day. Instead of shipping players out of town in exchange for draft picks, Phoenix was a buyer. Lee Stempniak and Wojtek Wolski have been huge acquisitions for the Coyotes, as both were tremendous down the stretch and haven't slowed down in the postseason. Wolski has 3 goals in as many games, while Stempniak has 1 assist and continues to bring plenty of grit.

"That was a very big day for us because we had some guys in our dressing room that, in years past, they were sellers at the deadline," Tippett said. "To be buyers at the deadline showed that we're going in the right direction."

It also just happened to be exactly what the Coyotes needed. Stempniak, who arrived from Toronto, had 14 goals in 18 games after the trade. Wolski, who came from Colorado in exchange for Peter Mueller, went 6-12-18 in 18 contests. It was almost as if the two had been playing with the Coyotes all along.

"There're a lot of great players around this League, but I'm a firm believer that you've got to be a team to win. Our guys genuinely like each other. They like being a team. There're very few egos. We all recognize what we have to do. I don't think we feel like we're behind anybody else. We are who we are and this is how we're going to play. We'll see if we can get our results." -- Coyotes coach Dave Tippett

"Just how the guys fit in," Lang said. "Lee came in and basically was a goal per game. That's tough to do in this League, I don't care who you are or where you go. They played really well. Anytime you have a change like that and new blood kicks in, it brings a nice little spark. Those guys have played really solid for us the whole time."

The trades helped ease the blow of losing gritty forward Scottie Upshall, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in January. Along with the arrivals of Stempniak and Wolski, GM Don Maloney also brought in forward Petteri Nokelainen, who helped the Ducks reach the second round of the playoffs a year ago.

"The key thing for us is that we needed to add some depth to our team," Tippett said. "Losing Upshall for the season was one of our scorers and we needed to add some depth there. From our team's perspective, we improved our team. We were giving ourselves the best chance to win. All those guys came in and contributed right away. When a player comes in and does that, he kind of endears himself to the team and he's accepted very quickly. All of them have fit in our group very well."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL


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