Three months ago on this day, the Phoenix Coyotes were in the city of Los Angeles to take on the Kings for game four of the Western Conference Finals. The Coyotes had lost the first three games of the series and were on the verge of elimination. While the 3rd round of the playoffs was the farthest the Coyotes had ever reached in the playoffs, a sweep would have left the team and its fans a bit disappointed despite the season’s great successes.
The Coyotes were outscored 10-3 during the first three games of the series, and had only managed to score one goal since the second period of game one. The Coyotes needed their best players to be their best players in this game. Captain Shane Doan and goaltender Mike Smith answered the call.
Entering game four, the Coyotes had only played 2:07 with a lead. The Coyotes would strike first, for the second game in a row, on a power play goal by Doan. Despite being outshot 10-5 in the first period, the Coyotes led the game 1-0 at the first intermission.
The Coyotes would take their first two-goal lead of the series in the second period off a designed faceoff play. Doan was positioned behind centerman Antoine Vermette in a position where Vermette would frequently win faceoffs. Vermette won the faceoff directly back to Doan, who one-timed the puck past Jonathan Quick to make the score 2-0 Coyotes. The play had to be reviewed before the Coyotes were awarded the goal because the puck hit the back bar of the net and ricocheted out of the net so quickly. Despite being outshot 23-14 so far, the Coyotes had a 2-0 lead.
The Kings would out-shoot the Coyotes for the fifth straight period, but could not get anything past Smith. Smith made 36 saves, which was good enough for his third shutout of the postseason (one in each series). The Coyotes guaranteed their fans at least one more home game two nights later.
Fans greeted the Coyotes at the airport later that night and cheered as the team came off the plane. Yes they were still down 3-1 in the series, but there was still a glimmer of hope left in this magical season.
The Coyotes would ultimately lose in overtime of game five, ending their season. Game four was the last win in a season of firsts. First division title, first playoff series win in Arizona and first conference finals appearance as a franchise. The Coyotes proved they were serious contenders who only lost to the team who won it all.
NOTE: The next installment of “A Look Back” will be Tuesday, Aug. 21.