The Phoenix Coyotes will battle the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals after a 2-1 win in Game 5 over the Nashville Predators. The Preds, a tough team with solid coaching, were not expected to go down so quickly. However, the Coyotes were also equipped with impressive coaching and a goalie that made incredible stops when needed. The win for Phoenix turns the tide for the failures that the franchise has had in the past.
Yes, I said the Phoenix Coyotes, but let's not forget that teams' often carry the fortunes (and misfortune) of their predecessors with them. The original Winnipeg Jets team (est. 1979-80) had been to the playoffs 10 times before moving to Phoenix, advancing to the second round only once. Most of the other years, the Jets spent their time getting trounced in their series (mostly by the Edmonton Oilers). It had been a similar fate for the Coyotes, who advanced to the Conference Semis for the first time this season after previous years of losing to the Detroit Red Wings in the first round.
Prior to Game 5, Phoenix had a 3-1 lead over Nashville (as they did in the previous round). The two times that Winnipeg had a 3-1 series advantage, they allowed their opponent to storm back and give the Jets an early playoff exit. The first time occurred in 1989-90 against the Oilers, and the second time was a potential upset against the Vancouver Canucks in 1991-92 that turned wrong. While Phoenix is the higher seed over the Predators, many had the Predators defeating the Coyotes in six or seven games, thanks to the expectations that Nashville had to go have a deep run this postseason.
It's not totally fair to hold the Coyotes' history against them -- even though audiences do it all the time for other teams. To its credit, Phoenix has its first four wins in the second round in franchise history during this postseason. They have also improved their game, not completely relying on lucky breaks like they did in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks. Instead, Phoenix now mixes their heavy reliance on goalie Mike Smith and their transition game with solid, clutch play from the rest of the team. Not to mention, the Coyotes didn't hesitate to put away the Predators as soon as possible without giving them a chance to win another game, as they did against the Blackhawks. If anything, the Coyotes are getting better as they advance, unlike their predecessors from Winnipeg.
The tides turning for the future of the Phoenix Coyotes' home may be changing as well, as a tentative deal may be reached sooner rather than later with a group of owners. With the possible announcement of a new Coyotes owner and momentarily rested fears of relocation, strict focus on hockey can help Phoenix in the long run. The franchise-long jinx can be reversed, no matter where the Coyotes end up -- on or off the ice.