Win so close Doan can taste it

Coyotes forward Mikkel Boedker scores the game-winning overtime goal on Blackhawks goaltender Corey...

Coyotes forward Mikkel Boedker scores the game-winning overtime goal on Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford during Game 4 of their NHL Western Conference quarterfinal series at the United Center in Chicago, Ill., April 19, 2012. (JIM YOUNG/Reuters)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:42 AM ET

CHICAGO - It has been a long time coming for Shane Doan.

Sixteen NHL seasons, in fact. All but one of them in the figurative and literal desert of Arizona.

With the Phoenix Coyotes now a win a way from their first playoff series victory in franchise history, it couldn’t have rained on a drier spot.

The young man that sent them to a 3-1 series lead over the Chicago Blackhawks was Mikkel Boedker with his second overtime winner in as many games to clinch a 3-2 ‘Yotes win 2:15 into overtime.

But it was Doan who got it started with a goal at 7:03 in the third and you'd better believe that a player of his talent and leadership is savouring the opportunity to get out of the first round for the first time in an often frustrating career.

He wants it for himself, of course, but more for his team and the infuriating story angle they have become for the last three seasons.

Doan understands that the rest of the hockey world wants to talk about the bungled Coyotes ownership and the latest imminent move. He understands there is uncertainty about his own future, let alone that of the team..

Less than two weeks ago, he had the opportunity to celebrate a division title, a small feat perhaps, but when the franchise’s accomplishments are as dry as their home, it’s a start.

Just how significant would a win in the opening round of the gruelling marathon of the NHL playoff season be?

“I think it would be huge if we could somehow finish this off,” an elated Doan said in the Coyotes dressing room.

“Winning the division was big, we’ve never done that before. But finding a way to get out of the first round ... hopefully then you start to get credit for some of the good things you’ve done there and the momentum we’ve created. Then maybe the first comment about the team isn’t about ownership.”

It’s not a reach to say that steeling themselves to the negative talk around the franchise has made the Coyotes a stronger, more resilient group.

They played in front of more than 21,000 at the United Center on Thursday night, a number that sometimes would take almost four games to draw in Glendale, Ariz.

In terms of style, it’s not always pretty. The Coyotes play an at-times suffocating defensive game, with their forward group lurking for any scrap of offensive opportunity that arrives.

The first one came Thursday in the third with the game still goal-less. Doan and Ray Whitney teamed to force Chicago's Johnny Oduya into a bad turnover in his own end, creating a two-on-none that the captain buried.

The Coyotes went up 2-0 just 44 seconds later, and in becoming the first team in the series to have a two-goal lead, they would have bolted for the team charter right then if allowed.

Instead, the Blackhawks came back with two of their own, the equalizer from Michael Frolik with 1:26 remaining and goalie Corey Crawford just arriving at the bench for an extra attacker.

When you have spent too much time listening to speculation about your future and your ownership and the failed suburban Phoenix home you play in, a blown lead is barely an inconvenience.

“People always talk about the adversity we deal with on a day-to-day basis,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “But one thing that adversity can do is bond or galvanize your group and we’ve seen it.

“It started three years ago and it continues to galvanize us.”

Let’s face it, there hasn’t been much to separate between these two teams, with all four games having gone to overtime, other than goaltending.

In the Phoenix net, Mike Smith stood on his head at times while Crawford, as he did on Tuesday, gave up an extremely soft goal in overtime, expanding his five-hole to a size that merely required a tap-in from Boedker.

But the Coyotes also did a superb job limiting the space of Chicago’s skill players and, according to the official stats sheet, outhit the 'Hawks by a bruising 50-32 margin.

With a long flight and short turnaround to lick their wounds -- Game 5 goes Saturday night -- the Blackhawks are pinned to the ropes now.

And yes, by the smile on Doan¹s face, you know he can taste it.

“It’s the hardest one to win, look at what they’ve done in games, never mind the series,” the captain said. “But it would be something.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/longleysunsport


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