Finally, the Phoenix Coyotes reached their summit.
Until the final days of the regular season, a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs appeared as elusive as cool breeze in the Arizona summer. With the play of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and a determined lot of hockey players, the Coyotes are in. In defeating the San Jose Sharks 4-3 April 8 at Jobing.com Arena, the Coyotes qualified for postseason play for the second straight spring.
In gaining the playoff spot, the Coyotes beat San Jose after losing eight straight. Though Phoenix dropped a subsequent 3-1 decision to the Sharks to close their season, the Coyotes will not meet San Jose in the opening round. Instead, they will get the Detroit Red Wings, a team which eliminated Phoenix in seven games in the opening round of the playoffs last year.
"Yes, the Sharks dominated us for a while, but they also dominate many teams in the Western Conference," captain Shane Doan said. "But, it was nice to get into the playoffs at home. We were able to bury some chances, and I thought that was the difference."
It appeared fitting a Doan goal would lift his team into the postseason. The Phoenix captain scored on the power play just over eight minutes elapsed in the final period, his 20th, for the game winner. That put Phoenix up 4-1 at the time, but Joe Thornton (at 9:27) and Dany Heatley (16:21) brought the Sharks to within one.
That put Bryzgalov front and center to preserve the win, and gain that playoff spot.
"(Bryzgalov) has been phenomenal," Doan added. "Without him, we would be nowhere."
Waiting until the next to last game for Phoenix coach Dave Tippett was not trying.
“At the start of the year your goal is to win the division or get into the top eight to give yourself a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup," Tippett said. "Sometimes that happens earlier than others, this year it didn’t happen until the second to last game of the season. But we are still in there.”
Yes, they are, and now the real fun begins.