Think back to September, when all the experts were making their season predictions. Anybody have the Phoenix Coyotes
ranked higher than, maybe, 10th in the Western Conference?
Well, here they are not only in the playoffs, but they spent the better part of the last six weeks a few points away from the overall lead in the conference.
Their story is far beyond Cinderella -- we're at the point of true fiction. Hollywood never could have crafted anything like this: A perennial last-place team, unwanted in its own home, bought out of bankruptcy by the League, no coach until the last week of training camp. It had the recipe for disaster.
After six-straight seasons out of the playoffs, no more than 83 points in that span, and suddenly they have home-ice for the first round of the playoffs? Sorry, not buying it.
But yet, here they are. So if the Coyotes have come this far, why can't they go all the way?
They certainly have a few key components to make a championship run, starting with a goaltender who might be more valuable to his team than any other player is to his squad. Ilya Bryzgalov
has 42 of the Coyotes' 50 wins this season. His eight shutouts are the second most in the League, his 2.29 goals-against average and .920 save percentage rank in the top eight, and he has the ability to steal not just a game, but an entire series.
Bryzgalov also has a Cup ring, won with the Anaheim Ducks
in 2007 as the backup to Jean-Sebastien Giguere
, so he does know what it takes to win.
The Coyotes have a strong, dependable leader in captain Shane Doan
, who must be licking his chops to get back to the postseason. They have a group of steady defensemen that as a unit are more than the sum of their individual parts; a few quality snipers (Radim Vrbata
, Lee Stempniak
); and coach Dave Tippett
has his players believing anything he says and doing exactly what he wants.
"His system is very simple in the fact that he knows exactly what he wants and can explain it to you very well," Doan said. "And so because of that I think the message was so clear and it helped us a lot. He's just done a phenomenal job."
Why will the Phoenix Coyotes
win the Stanley Cup? The players want to prove hockey can work in the "Valley of the Sun," and they owe it to their fans who stuck with them for so many down years.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org