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Why Phoenix will win the Cup

by Brian Compton /

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.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Goalie - PHX
RECORD: 37-18-10
GAA: 2.23 | SVP: 0.930
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.

Combine Smith's stellar play with the performance of the team's top pair on the blue line -- Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle -- and Phoenix has the backbone that is required for hockey teams that enjoy parades in June.

Ekman-Larsson and Yandle may be the headliners, but that pairing has plenty of experienced peers upon which to rely. The group of Derek Morris, Adrian Aucoin, Michal Roszival and Rostislav Klesla has combined to play more than 3,000 games in the National Hockey League.

The Big Uh-Oh: The biggest question facing the Coyotes is secondary scoring.

Ray Whitney
Ray Whitney
Left Wing - PHX
GOALS: 24 | ASST: 52 | PTS: 76
SOG: 184 | +/-: 25
It's practically a certainty that Phoenix will get offense from the trio of Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan, but what about after that? Nobody else on the club reached the 20-goal plateau, and only two other forwards -- Lauri Korpikoski and Raffi Torres -- managed to score 15. Clearly, the top-line reliance will have to change if Phoenix plans on advancing to the second round -- and beyond.

Final Argument: While the focus will likely be on Vancouver and St. Louis, the top guns in the West, let's not forget these Coyotes have won at least 40 games in each of the past three seasons. General manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett have done exceptional jobs during their time in the desert, and their work will be rewarded come June, when the Coyotes hoist Lord Stanley for the first time in franchise history.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

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