Just over the halfway point of the second period in game four of the western conference finals – something happened.
A pivotal point in the Coyotes’ claim to stay alive.
Down 3-0 in games, captain Coyote himself hit the goal post. A ‘ding’ to his teammates’ hearts. If it was a goal – a confidence builder for his despondent mates. A three – quarter turn of the winning screw.
The team in Toronto had other ideas.
When an official is uncertain of small matters such as goals, their decision is passed on to the ‘men upstairs’. The dudes with devices that record plays. If and when the ‘boys of les buts’ witness a puck crossing the line – that message is parlayed to the penalty box.
No purgatory allowed. In this case, Shayne Doan had indeed scored. Placing the three hundred pound gorilla off the backs of the Coyotes. A heavy burden for desert dogs to tote in Tinseltown …
Up by two goals – Phoenix players start skating a little stronger with lightness in their strides. Passes suddenly seem easier than before. They are still behind the ‘eight puck’, yet for this game, the next thirty minutes – in their minds they are not.
Smiles replace grimaces on the visiting bench. Heads higher than they were before. Just like that, they believe once more …
All the dreams of winning the second oldest trophy in professional sports come flooding back. A glimpse of what the future could hold on the tip of their battered sticks. The nightmare of the past week; forgotten like a kiss in kindergarten.
L.A ‘s destiny in this game …? Up to their coach. Twenty minutes of motivation of the gentler kind. The Kings know they are close and at the same time – so far. Take away the past and forget the future. It is one game and the dynamics do not keep track beyond sixty minutes.
If they open up, Marcel Dionne’s old team risks the two-on- ones and the odd- man rushes of history. Play it safe? Three goals are not that easy against a cautionary Coyote defense. Not simple against Smith.
Penalties become an perplexing issue. Take one to save a goal, take one and you may be opening more than the penalty box door. The Kings cannot afford Coyote courtesy. They cannot allow a third goal while they are short by a pair. A return to Phoenix, no skate in the rink. No guarantees …
A bench is shortened in the regular season by the visitors – a bench is elongated by necessity in the playoffs. Each player, face drawn behind the surly beards with exhaustion. Each player’s loved ones, face drawn with exhaustion.
The Coyotes were kicked and left by a California highway to die. They picked themselves up and carried on. Now, they return to Phoenix to look for what every abused animal seeks; love.