The Coyotes won a division title this year for the first time in the franchise’s history.
For that, Phoenix got a lucky playoff draw of sorts, meaning any team not called the Detroit Red Wings.
Their run to a Stanley Cup title begins in Glendale, Ariz., on Thursday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, a team they’ve fared well against this season, winning three of four games.
Each and every player on the Coyotes roster knows the second season is now upon them. It was great to make the late season push to the division title, but now they are back to square one, 0-0, just like Chicago is.
The Blackhawks, who hoisted the very trophy the Coyotes are seeking back in 2010, are in wait-and-see mode as far as the health of their All-Star center Jonathan Toews is concerned.
Toews missed the final 22 games of the regular season due to a concussion.
Toews did take part in the Wednesday skate, and definitely looked the part, showing no ill effects, moving quite swiftly around the ice.
Toews and Blackhawks head coach Joel Quennville are both cautiously optimistic about Toews starting on Thursday night.
This is a 45-win Blackhawks team that will not go down quietly, so the Coyotes will have to be in sync on each and every play in every game, starting with Game 1, if they expect to move onto the second round for the first time ever.
“We’re gonna have to play with the puck, we can’t be chasing it all the time,” captain Shane Doan said. “They [Chicago] have elite talent.”
Strong goaltending, which the Coyotes have had all season long, will be paramount in this series as well.
Goalie Mike Smith has owned the Blackhawks this season, winning all three games in which he’s played, giving up just four goals in the three.
“I’m just gonna do my thing, and hopefully it’s good enough,” Smith said.
So far this season, Smith and his play have been more than good enough. The team will need him to continue to play at that level, if not higher.
The good thing about the way the Coyotes played to end the season and get to where they are now, is that every game was a playoff game of sorts, which head coach Dave Tippett says got them prepared for such a time as this.
“There’s not a lot that has to change in our group going into this series,” Tippett said. “We’ve been in this mode for a few weeks now.”