Welcome back to Last Word on Hockey’s summer series where we look at the biggest game in team history. Each day we will be back with a new team to review. Looking at things like the lead-up, what happened, followed, and why it makes it the biggest game. The biggest game does not automatically mean a win, either. Sometimes, it can be a loss that set the franchise back massively. Sit back and enjoy as we break down all 31 Team’s most important game. In this article, we will discuss the Arizona Coyotes biggest game in franchise history. The full series is found here.
Some Coyotes History
The Arizona Coyotes, (they were called the Phoenix Coyotes back then) unlike many other NHL teams, have had little success in the playoffs, or even reaching that plateau since arriving in the desert to start the 1996-97 season. They did, however, compete well by appearing in the playoffs the first four seasons in Phoenix. Unfortunately, they lost in the quarterfinals each time.
Playoff Success, at First
During that first season of 1996-97, they squeaked into the playoffs with a mere 83 points — something you won’t see currently in the NHL. They faced the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (yes that was their name then) and fell four games to three to be eliminated.
The next season they almost duplicated their previous regular season performance by qualifying with just 82 points. This time they had to face their nemesis Detroit Red Wings. They went down in defeat again, losing four games to two.
The 1999-00 season the team put together 90 points and finished second in their new Pacific Division. These first three seasons, the Coyotes were paced by captain Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick in scoring.
The team then did not make the playoffs for the 2001-01 season even though they gathered 90 points in the standings.
They got back on track during the 2001-02 season with a strong 95 points. They faced the San Jose Sharks in the playoffs and lost in five games.
Wayne Gretzky Era
What followed was a turbulent six years of not playing in the postseason. Four of those campaigns were at the helm of Wayne Gretzky behind the bench. He was without a doubt a great player, but his head coaching abilities left a lot to be desired. He finished with a less than impressive 143-161-24 record and the next season, Dave Tippett took over the coaching reins.
Dave Tippett Era
In 2009, with the team wallowing the NHL standings and attendance faltering, the Coyotes managed to corral Dave Tippett away from the Dallas Stars after they failed to qualify for the playoffs. Tippett turned the team around. They went from a dismal 79 points in Gretzky’s last season to an amazing 107 points and a second place finish in the Pacific Division.
But again, they faced the Red Wings — a team they just couldn’t excel against and fell in the first round four games to three.
Back to the drawing board. In 2010-11, the Desert Dogs managed to finish second again but had 99 points this time — still a very decent season. Yet, who do you think they had to face AGAIN in the playoffs? Right, those pesky Red Wings. This time they didn’t win one playoff game and were pushed aside quickly and mercilessly.
Tippett, never one to give up, persevered. In the 2011-12 season, the team took home their first division championship by finishing the season with 97 points. This time, things would be different. The Coyotes showed some excellent play to eliminate the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
The uniqueness of this series was that the first five games were all decided in overtime. The key here was that the Coyotes won three of them. They went into Game 6 needing just one win and had an outstanding performance from goalie Mike Smith who shut the ‘Hawks out.
The Coyotes First Round Two Appearance
It was on to face a tough Nashville Predators team who had a hard-to-beat goalie in Pekka Rinne. His record this past season was exemplary. 43-18-8 with a .923 save percentage, and a 2.39 goals against average. As if they hadn’t played enough overtime contests against the Blackhawks, they repeated that again in Game 1 against Nashville.
Again they came out victorious winning 4-3 with the “Wizard” Ray Whitney gathering the winning tally. Mike Smith again came up big by stopping 39 of 42 shots he faced.
The Coyotes showed they were for real by taking the second game, only losing Game 3 in Nashville 2-0. Games 4 and 5 were one-goal victories and the team was off to the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Kings.
Los Angeles Kings Showed Their Dominance
The Coyotes were definitely playing with a confidence not seen for years and went into the Kings series hoping for their first appearance in the coveted Stanley Cup championship.
It was not meant to be. The Los Angeles Kings completely dominated the Coyotes and went away winning in five games. Actually, the Coyotes poor luck just continued by facing the hot Kings. Going into the Conference Finals against the Kings, the L.A. team had accumulated an 8-1 record. They banished the Vancouver Canucks in five games and swept the St. Louis Blues. In other words, this was not going to be any cakewalk for the Coyotes.
Losing the first three games of any playoff series is not a road to success. The Coyotes were outscored 10-3 in those first three games and that was a purely deciding factor.
Or was it?
They came back to delay elimination in Game 4 with a 2-0 win and Mike Smith kicking out all 36 shots the Kings threw at him. They staved off being swept, but they were still down three games to one.
Coyotes Biggest Game in Franchise History – Deciding Game 5
The two teams fought to a 3-3 tie in regulation with Keith Yandle getting the tying goal with just 3:37 remaining in regulation. In the overtime, the key play of the game came at the 2:28 mark when Dustin Brown, known for his chippy play at times, took out Michal Rozsival in a play near the blue line. The two players were crossing paths and the question was, did Brown extend his leg out as he hit Rozsival?
The issue with the Coyotes was that no call was made on the play. Did Brown get away with a dirty play or was it just an unavoidable collision between the two players?
In any case, it put the Coyotes defence shorthanded and at the 17:42 mark of the overtime Dustin Penner ended any hope of the Coyotes getting to the Stanley Cup Final.
Why this was the biggest game of the Coyotes franchise history is fairly clear. They got so close… but failed to get past the Kings.
Was it an illegal hit by Brown? Coyotes captain Shane Doan thought so. So much so that the usually contained Doan was ejected after the game ended protesting the non-call that took out his teammate earlier in the overtime period.
The other factor that comes to mind is that the very next season the team fell into a pit of mediocrity by not getting back in the playoffs since that eventful 2011-12 season.
They came close last season finishing with 86 points, even though they had an enormous disadvantage with so many injuries. They seem to be on the path back to the playoffs and their creative general manager John Chayka acquired a star forward by the name of Phil Kessel to help his team get past not appearing in the playoffs for the past seven seasons.
Will it be enough? Perhaps there will be another Coyotes biggest game in franchise history and this time it will result in a favorable ending.
That’s why they play the games.