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Playoff hockey in Arizona an enjoyable experience
Nine days have passed since that game.
But since I was in the building for it, and it falls under the category of sports, I feel the need to relive it and share it with you.
Let’s be honest. The Phoenix Coyotes’ 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal series on May 7 wasn’t the most exciting playoff game. It wasn’t the most thrilling National Hockey League contest this year. Round 2 alone may have featured better games.
But when you’re watching it live, and not on TV, it’s always a different atmosphere. Jobing.com Arena is a state-of-the-art multi-purpose facility that’s only existed since 2003. It anchors the 223-acre, $1-billion development Westgate City Center in Glendale, Arizona.
The arena was close to full (I saw only a few empty seats in each section), and the crowd was anything but quiet. But let’s not kid ourselves. There was a strong Canadian presence, with the Phoenix area a popular vacation destination in the spring. And hockey fans from this country like to cheer.
Being a close game, the fans were on the edge of their seats. Nashville forward Colin Wilson cut the Coyotes’ lead in half with 5:59 left in the third period, redirecting the puck from teammate David Legwand.
Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, whose efforts so far have him as a candidate for Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, nearly scored an empty netter in the dying seconds. While that would’ve been icing on the cake, the victory was the main thing for Phoenix. It gave them a 4-1 series win and secured a date with the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference final.
Interesting that it took a trip to Arizona for me to take in my first NHL playoff game (the reasonable price and availability of seats played no small role in purchasing it). The timing of my visit was also interesting since it was while I was in Glendale for the game that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made the announcement that a tentative deal had been made to keep the Coyotes at their current home.
Bettman announced the tentative agreement to sell the Coyotes to former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison just before I walked into the arena. Then came the series-clinching game, marking the Coyotes’ first trip to the conference final in their 33-year history.
Anybody following the NHL knows the Phoenix Coyotes haven’t been a financial success, as they’ve required support from the City of Glendale and NHL to stay afloat. The fact they’re drawing solid crowds to games these days isn’t surprising, as no matter what market, success draws spectators.
What will be interesting to see is the impact this playoff run has on offseason season-ticket sales and next season’s fan base. The security of a sale to Jamison may also generate more interest. But how many of those fans during these playoffs are like me, a Canadian taking in a game during a vacation?
The Free Press made conference finals predictions before the first game concluded on Sunday.
Here are the picks made by sports editor Alistair McInnis and assistant editor Allan Wishart:
Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8): McInnis - Kings in six; Wishart - Kings in six
New York Rangers (1) vs. New Jersey Devils (6): McInnis - Rangers in seven; Wishart - Devils in seven
McInnis holds a two-point advantage over Wishart overall, with seven series winners to Wishart’s five.
In Round 2, McInnis outscored Wishart 3-2. McInnis correctly picked the Los Angeles Kings (over the St. Louis Blues) and Coyotes as winners in the Western Conference, while Wishart missed on each of the series. In the Eastern Conference, both Free Press staffers correctly predicted the Rangers would advance past the Washington Capitals while Wishart correctly called for the New Jersey Devils to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers.
In the only correct games prediction, McInnis picked the Coyotes to win in five games.