Tuesday, 05.8.2012 / 8:05 AM PT
In case you missed it last night, the Phoenix Coyotes wiped out the Nashville Predators in five games to earn their first-ever berth in the Western Conference Finals and a series with the Kings.
It's a testament to the strength of the Pacific Division that those two teams have advanced to the NHL's version of the Final Four. Sure, this year's division champ (Phoenix) had a lower point total than the other division winners (Vancouver and St. Louis). But the three-way battle for that division title (which included San Jose) wasn't decided until the last day of the regular season, and it's largely due to fact that each of the Pacific's teams beat up on each other all year.
For example, the Ducks went 3-3-0 against the Coyotes this season, and 5-1-0 against the Sharks, who finished seventh in the Western Conference. (Although, Anaheim was a disappointing 1-3-2 versus LA this campaign.)
While both Western Conference finalists are considered "division rivals" of the Ducks -- and there is unquestionable disdain between the Ducks and Kings, not to mention Ducks/Sharks -- it's pretty hard to hate the Coyotes. As a hockey fan, how do you not root for Phoenix (as long as they're not playing the Ducks), when you consider the distractions they've overcome to become among the class of the Western Conference?
For the past several years, the team has endured bankruptcy (ultimately being purchased by the NHL in 2009) and constant rumors of being relocated to other cities, including the likes of Winnipeg, Quebec, Hamilton, Ont., and Seattle. Through it all, they've managed to win hockey games -- a lot of hockey games. Since making the change behind the bench to former Dallas coach Dave Tippett, the team has made the playoffs each of the last three seasons. Now they've advanced the conference finals for the first time since they entered the NHL as the Winnipeg Jets in 1979.
(Plus they used to have Bryz, and we've always liked Bryz.)
You would get no argument in proclaiming that yesterday was the best day in Phoenix Coyotes history. In the afternoon before Game 5 against the Preds, they held a press conference in which NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the team would be purchased by a group led by Greg Jamison, former CEO of the Sharks. Not only that, the intent of that ownership group will be to keep the team in its current home in Glendale.
A few hours later, the Yotes took down Nashville 2-1 in front of a sellout crowd at Jobing.com Arena in which everyone wore white. (Well, almost everybody. I believe you may recognize Mr. and Mrs. Tennis Ball, whom you can see during every Ducks game at Honda Center? They apparently made the road trip for this one.)
With the Kings having pulled off a mildly surprising sweep of the No. 2-seeded Blues on Sunday, we've got what should be a thrilling Western Conference Final that will start sometime this weekend (schedule won't be released until later this week).
What sounds better to you? Stanley Cup Champion Phoenix Coyotes or Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings?
I think I know the answer but give us an answer below anyway and feel free to elaborate in the Comments.