Photo: The Arizona Republic
The Phoenix Coyotes magical season should not have ended this way.
Facing elimination, Phoenix played one of its best games of the season. The Coyotes punched the Kings in the mouth early, responded to almost every challenge and had several chances to force a Game 6.
Instead, the Los Angeles Kings are the ones moving to the Stanley Cup Final after a 4-3 overtime victory in Glendale.
To make matters worse, the below average officiating stole the spotlight away from a remarkable year.
“I bit my tongue the whole playoffs, I bit my tongue during the whole series,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “As a player I get in trouble when I make a mistake. I get called out by the media, I get called out by everybody. I don’t know how they miss that.”
Doan was referring to Dustin Brown’s hit on Michal Rozsival after the whistle. Rozsival had to be helped off the ice, but no penalty was called. Seconds later, the puck was in the back of the Coyotes net and Los Angeles was on their way to the Cup Final.
“They [the refs] know we don’t have an owner to back us up,” Keith Yandle said. “I don’t know if it’s an easy way for them to not make calls. I know they wear the same colors as the Kings, but they didn’t have to play for them tonight.”
Look, the officials were brutal in this series, on both sides. Los Angeles benefited from more bad calls (and non-calls) than Phoenix. However the Coyotes put themselves in a 3-0 hole, not the refs.
Sadly, the focus is now on the zebras and not what Phoenix accomplished on the ice this year.
After a quick exit in the playoffs last year, the future of the franchise was uncertain on and off the ice. Ilya Bryzgalov wanted out. Winnipeg wanted a team. Hockey in the Valley seemed like a lost cause.
Instead, the team remained in Glendale for another year.
General Manager Don Maloney reunited Dave Tippett with goaltender Mike Smith. Skeptics wrote off the Coyotes in October, saying the organization lost too much and the uncertainty surrounding the ownership would doom the team.
Smith became one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata had breakout seasons. Maloney worked his magic at the deadline and acquired Antonie Vermette for basically nothing.
The Coyotes went 11-0-1 in February, won their first division title in franchise history, advanced to the second round for the first time since moving to Phoenix and reached the Western Conference Final for the first time ever.
Doan & Co. saved an organization from moving, hooked a bandwagon sports town to hockey and proved countless doubters wrong.
Unfortunately those achievements will get lost in the white noise for those complaining about the refs for the next several days.