GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Phoenix Coyotes' owner dropped by to see his team open the playoffs Wednesday night although as NHL Commissioner GaryBettman helpfully reminded scribblers at a pre-game news conference, the other 29 NHL teams actually are the owners of the Coyotes, not Bettman himself. He jocularly added he would not congratulate himself if the Coyotes, a franchise that hasn't won a playoff series since 1987, manage to string four together and win Lord Stanley's Cup. Nor will his name and that of Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly be etched in perpetuity along with Phoenix president Doug Moss and general manager Don Maloney. Although Bettman inadvertently called the GM "Dave," who actually is an analyst on New York Rangers games and is Don's brother, give the commissioner a pass. It's been a long season, especially in the desert.
Bettman said he was not here to talk about the business of a franchise that, for the moment, remains a ward of his state, although the endgame apparently is drawing to a close. (On Tuesday, the Glendale city council agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding with potential owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who, as you might have heard, already owns a couple of teams in leagues whose games do not appear on Versus. Reinsdorf now must work out an arena lease with the city while finalizing a bid for the team with the league.) No, the commissioner said he was there to take in the White Out, an old Winnipeg/Phoenix tradition in which fans dress in white for the playoffs. (T-shirts were handed out at the entrances to encourage patrons to adhere to the dress code, although some shades of red were visible, in the guise of pockets of Red Wings fans and a section of empty seats in one corner of the lower bowl.) He also had come to Jobing.com Arena -- a splendid barn more appealing than the name -- for the hockey, which was even better than advertised for the franchise that is the NHL's version of the French Foreign Legion.
Defenseman Derek Morris, unloved in Boston this season and shipped to Phoenix at the trade deadline for a fourth-round draft pick, was the local Gary Cooper in Beau Geste, scoring on a power play goal less than three minutes into the third period, the winner in a 3-2 victory that sent the announced sellout crowd into a frenzy.
Bless these Coyotes. They should be ticketed for loitering because all they seem to do is hang around. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who whiffed on Tomas Holmstrom's first-period 40-footer but was otherwise superb, makes big saves, the team gets the occasional goal or two and there Phoenix is, right in the middle of things even when a slick team like Detroit is outshooting them, 30-15, after two periods.
Ultimately the surprise was not the final score. (Phoenix went 29-6-7 in one-goal games during the season and overall finished with five more points than Detroit.) The surprise was how the Coyotes got the win, practically acing their power play. Three-for-four. (The lone futile one was cut short by a RadimVrbata holding penalty.) Phoenix ranked 28th in the NHL during the regular season, converting at a miserable 14.8 percent rate. But, when presented with the opportunity, they didn't merely score, but scored with dispatch. Ten seconds after a first-period Niklas Kronwall crosscheck, KeithYandle threaded a 55-footer past a screening ShaneDoan and Red Wings goalie JimmyHoward. Then, in the second period, the Coyotes needed just 45 seconds with the man advantage before Yandle made a dandy diagonal pass from the left point to WojtekWolski at the right faceoff dot. Wolski buried the tying goal.
As Morris noted, the credit should go to the Coyotes centers, who were winning the key draws and pulling the puck back to the points. Indeed, all of the pucks that went from low-to-high during the power plays seemed to lay flat for the defensemen, giving them more time to either pull the trigger on a shot or make a pass like Yandle's. And while he didn't manage a point, Doan, the one Coyote player who started with the Jets in Winnipeg, was a human eclipse in front of Howard, who was starting his first NHL playoff game.
"Our job is to take advantage when the opportunity arises and we had a nice clear lane down to the net," said Morris, who had a hand in all three goals. "(Doan) was doing such a nice job in front - some good screens -- that we could see the goalie leaning either way. You just want to get it down there and let Doan do the rest."
On a glorious spring night, at last you could discuss a power play in Glendale that had nothing to do with Jerry Reinsdorf.