2012 NHL Playoffs: 5 Reasons Why the Phoenix Coyotes Can Win the Stanley Cup

Mark JonesSenior Analyst IApril 25, 2012

2012 NHL Playoffs: 5 Reasons Why the Phoenix Coyotes Can Win the Stanley Cup

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    On Monday night, the Phoenix Coyotes defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0 in Game 6 to win their first playoff series in 25 years.

    On that memorable night back in 1987, the franchise was then located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a city approximately 1,364 miles away from Phoenix and a full 180 degrees different in every regard. Since then, a lot of time has passed; not a single NHL player, much less a Winnipeg player, from that date in time is still a part of the league today.

    And after the club's move to the desert in 1996, the Coyotes—recently mired in a literal dust storm of financial instability and lack of support—had been eliminated in the first round in each of their seven postseason appearances.

    Until this week.

    Now, the 'Yotes can build on their long-awaited playoff triumph and look forward to facing a team with a story much like theirs—the Nashville Predators—beginning Friday night. They'll surely be underdogs, as always, in that matchup, but don't expect Phoenix to roll over when merely given the back of the hand.

    Backed by an emerging superstar goaltender and an extremely well-traveled and well-balanced crew in front of him, the Coyotes maintain strong reasons to legitimately believe that they can win the Stanley Cup this spring.

    Still not jumping on the bandwagon? We can't blame you. But while the rest of the hockey world continues to ignore a dark horse hidden in the shadows, here are five key rationales why, against all odds, Phoenix might just have the slimmest of chances to capture the Cup come June.

Veteran Experience

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    Although the Coyotes are truthfully one of the younger teams in the League, a trio of veteran scorers lead their 12-man group of forwards with grit, experience and determination.

    Radim Vrbata, Ray Whitney and team captain Shane Doan—each respectively 30, 39 and 35 years young—boast a remarkable 3,105 games played and 2,176 points between them and aren't slowing down anytime soon. Despite their lofty ages, all three also played tremendous roles in the 'Yotes offense this season.

    Vrbata's 35 goals ranked 11th in the NHL while Whitney's 53 assists placed sixth overall, and meanwhile, Doan finished up his incredible 12th consecutive season with more than 48 points.

    Whitney (one goal, two assists) and Doan (one goal, one assist) have similarly hit their stride in the playoffs, but Vrbata, as he did in the season's final months, has been oddly quiet. Nonetheless, if all three of these veterans can find their scoring groove and continue to lead the 'Yotes abundant youth in the right direction, Phoenix's offense can certainly be a consistent force.

Success on the Road

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    Phoenix's 3-0 record in the United Center was the focal reason why the 'Yotes managed to upset the Blackhawks in Round 1, and should continue to play tremendous dividends for them down the road.

    The Coyotes won three critical matches in Chicago, including two Mikkel Boedker overtime winners (to take the series from 1-1 to 3-1) as well as the series-deciding Game 6 rout.

    The desert dogs were strong away from home in the regular season also, accumulating 47 points in 41 road contests. Among the biggest victims were fellow Western foes Edmonton, Nashville, Chicago and Minnesota, all of whom were swept by the 'Yotes in their home arena.

    Victories away from home are crucial in the playoffs—the 2011 Boston Bruins needed six of them to capture last year's NHL crown—and Phoenix is currently looking great in that regard.

Clutch Scoring

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    Mikkel Boedker's aforementioned two game-winning goals in the extra frame of both Game 3 and Game 4 against Chicago made for two consecutive games to remember, and gave the Coyotes a clutch edge that their opponents down the line may not have.

    After all, the only reason Phoenix was in position to take the series in the sixth game was their overtime success through the first five—the first series in NHL history to start with overtimes in five consecutive games.

    Boedker's pair of winners, in addition to Martin Hanzal's tip-in to end Game 1, helped the Coyotes go 3-2 in overtime and gain a lot of valuable experience in the process.

    On the contrary, the desert dogs' awaiting second-round opponent, the Nashville Predators, failed to go to overtime in a single one of their five games against Detroit. When that series eventually comes down to post-regulation play, expect the Coyotes to build on their prior success to take control in the extra frame.

Penalty-Killing Excellence

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    Phoenix's reliable penalty kill ranked eighth in the league during the regular season with an 85.5 percent kill rate, and was even better in their series against Chicago, turning away 18 of 19 Blackhawk power plays to deny the Hawks any momentum on the man-advantage.

    With the Coyotes also one of the most disciplined squads around—taking an average of only 9.2 penalty minutes per game during the regular season, the third-lowest average out of the 30 NHL teams—a penalty kill as stellar as that can effectively eliminate any significant scoring by an opposing power play unit, and that's exactly what they have done.

    By combining continual discipline and a top-class "PK" unit, Phoenix effectively crushes one of the sport of hockey's most prominent scoring routes and helps their defense stay well-rested throughout the five-on-five game, as well.

Mike Smith

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    As it turned out, enormous 6'4", 218-pound Mike Smith, already 30 years old, just needed to find the right place for him to thrive.

    Smith had been a unreliable backup for six years with the Stars and Lightning before his arrival in Arizona last year. Now, less than 10 months later, he's hoping to add a Cinderella playoff run onto the end of a masterful campaign that finally gave Smith a bit of netminding recognition.

    The former fifth-round pick saw his '11-'12 season skyrocket through the roof, posting a 38-18-10 record and placing fourth in the NHL in wins, third in saves (1,922), third in save percentage (.930), seventh in GAA (2.21) and third in shutouts (eight).

    His first-round performance against the Blackhawks was even more impressive. Smith's current postseason stat line boasts a striking .950 save percentage and 1.81 GAA through six games.

    With Phoenix's unheralded defense backing him up—the Coyotes compiled the fifth-most hits of any team in the past regular season—Smith is showing no signs of cooling off and shouldn't be overwhelmed by the Predators' potent but star-lacking offense, either, in their upcoming series.

    The 'Yotes might be able to ride all the way to the Stanley Cup on Mike Smith's shoulders alone.