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The Early Lead
Posted at 02:26 PM ET, 04/24/2012

Phoenix Coyotes oust Chicago Blackhawks, stick a finger in Gary Bettman’s eye


Gilbert Brule (R), Kyle Chipchura (C) and Michal Rozsival finally have reason to celebrate. (Jim Young - Reuters)
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman probably shouldn’t have a rooting interest in this postseason.

Sure, he should root for great games and seven-game series and the sport’s continued attempts to move back up the national sports ladder. But rooting for a specific team to win? It’s best to remain unbiased.

Well, you can bet your bottom dollar Bettman wasn’t pulling for the Phoenix Coyotes to close out the Chicago Blackhawks last night and continue another stirring postseason run for a team that many thought would be long gone from the desert by now.

Sorry, Gary, but that’s exactly what Mike Smith and the Coyotes did. Backed by a dominant 39-save performance from their goaltender, the Coyotes finished off Chicago with a 4-0 shutout to claim a four-games-to-two series win, their first since moving to Phoenix in 1996.

“It’s a relief because you just want to get a chance to do something in the playoffs,” said Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who began his career with Winnipeg before the team moved to Phoenix. “Everyone always talks about if you get out of the first round, anything can happen.”

Indeed it can, and with the Coyotes now set to face fourth-seeded Nashville, Bettman and the NHL have a pair of teams from non-traditional hockey markets one step closer to the Stanley Cup Finals.


Goalie Mike Smith (41) and the Coyotes were on the winning side of the handshake line for a change. (Nam Y. Huh - AP)
The NHL currently owns the Phoenix franchise, which is in a prime top-five media market, but as the Atlanta Thrashers’ relocation to Winnipeg last offseason shows, a top media market doesn’t always equal success in the NHL. But moving a second franchise while the paint is still drying on the new-look Jets would signal an admission of failure in the NHL’s efforts to inject hockey into the Sunbelt.

Last April, just as the puck was dropping on the Phoenix-Detroit first-round playoff series, The Hockey News published a report claiming a deal to move the team back to Winnipeg was imminent.

The Coyotes skirted death then, but they may not be so lucky the next time, and Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs knows it, as evidenced by her claim earlier this month that the NHL “misled us and they can’t do this to our city.” And frankly, Glendale seems ready to give the NHL the boot. The city is floundering financially across the board, and continuing to subsidize a hockey team that finished last in attendance isn’t helping.

New ownership, and with it a new locale, likely will come in the next couple years — and it will bring joy to a hockey-starved city such as Quebec City (or Seattle, or Kansas City — if you believe the NHL’s platform). But until then, the Coyotes will keep finding ways to remain relevant while keeping East Coast hockey fans up well beyond their bedtimes.

Next up: Game 1 against the Predators at Jobing.com Arena.

As Coyotes Coach Dave Tippett told the Arizona Republic after his team won Monday despite being outshot 39-20, “The hockey gods were shining down on us a little bit.”

And Phoenix fans would be wise to enjoy the run.

“It’s an accomplishment that will touch a lot of guys dearly just because of getting the first round out of the way,” Trippett said. “But I guarantee you there’s no one in there satisfied.”

(H/T Puck Daddy)

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By  |  02:26 PM ET, 04/24/2012

 
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