Saturday, March 27, 2010

Phoenix Coyotes officially clinch first playoff berth in 8 years

The day Phoenix Coyotes fans have waited for has finally arrived.

When the final horn sounded in TD Garden at 3:33 PM Eastern Time, the Calgary Flames were soundly beaten in a 5-0 loss to the Boston Bruins. That defeat secured the Coyotes' first playoff berth in 8 years. Get the white T-shirts, jerseys and pom poms ready. If you're a Coyotes fan in Arizona, get geared up for the return of the White Out, a playoff tradition that dates back to the franchise's years in Winnipeg.

Not since 2002 when the Coyotes played at the US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix has there been a White Out. Now Arena will get that chance in just a few short weeks. The arena located just 13 miles to the northwest in neighboring Glendale will be the last current National Hockey League venue to host its first Stanley Cup playoff game.

Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic wrote in his Ice Chips blog:

"The berth in the playoffs is a red-letter day for a franchise that was thrown into a turmoil due to bankruptcy, a drawn-out court scenario that could have sent them to Canada and the stepping down of coach Wayne Gretzky.

The hiring of coach Dave Tippett infused new hope into the team, and the "us against the world" mentality paid off in a big way."

But in the meantime, Phoenix had just started selling playoff tickets today. The Coyotes just defeated the visiting Colorado Avalanche 6-2 before another sellout crowd with 17,188 fans in attendance. The Arizona Republic's Dustin Gardiner mentioned in his article that the fans are energized and ready to buy tickets for the second season to come.

"That tells me that the fan base is here for hockey," Charley Heinz told Gardiner, a Coyotes fan who has followed the team for seven years. "We just needed a spark to get them out."

Among the highlights of tonight's game, Lee Stempniak continued his torrid scoring page by netter two more goals to give him 12 in 12 games since joining the team at the trade deadline. Taylor Pyatt recorded a "Gordie Howe hat trick" by scoring a goal, assisting on Derek Morris' first period goal and getting into a fight with Avalanche forward Chris Stewart. All that came in Pyatt's 600th NHL game.

Before a packed house one week ago, the Coyotes rallied twice from two-goal deficits to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in a shootout victory. At the time tonight's game was secured, Phoenix pulled back into a tie for first place in the Western Conference with their the first 100-point season in franchise history.

The Coyotes have just 6 games left after tonight, with only two more at home. The regular season finale could have significant meaning as they will be in the Bay Area on April 10th to battle the San Jose Sharks for potentially not just the Pacific Division title, but the conference one as well.

Coverage of this milestone in what has been a remarkable turnaround for the Phoenix Coyotes can be found below. Included is an audio clip of general manager Don Maloney talking about the satisfaction of making the playoffs.

KPHO-TV (Phoenix) (March 20):
Glendale hockey crowds boost business

National Hockey League official site (March 27):
Coyotes have always believed

Phoenix Coyotes official site (March 27):
Coyotes clinch first Stanley Cup playoff berth since 2002
Don Maloney talks about significance of Coyotes' playoff berth

Arizona Republic's Coyotes page
(March 27):
Coyotes in the playoffs
Phoenix Coyotes fans start buying playoff tickets

(March 28):
Pyatt won't forget his 600th game

KNXV-TV (Phoenix) (March 27):
Coyotes clinch playoff spot, first time since 2002

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