I played for an atrociously bad high school soccer team when I was younger, and I know what it feels like to be dominated in every facet of a series against a team.
But I also know what it feels like to take one from a team, to steal that sweep away. They can talk all the trash they want to, but at the end of the day, you can still smile at them and say, "At least we took one from you."
This is the same scenario that the Phoenix Coyotes are going through with the Los Angeles Kings.
When the final horn sounded and the Coyotes handed the Kings their first shutout loss of the postseason, the team could finally breath easy.
In the face of series sweep by a division rival and possibly the best team in the NHL, the Coyotes took back one game in the Western Conference Final and with it, their pride.
Many people and sportswriters around the Valley (including myself) were bracing for a series-ending loss to a despised L.A. team on Sunday. As I watched, I grimaced with every Kings shot and every bad Coyotes mistake. I was ready for the worst and for my phone to light up at the end with messages from new fans asking me what went wrong, old fans attempting to console themselves and rival fans rubbing salt in the wound.
But then an amazing thing happened. The Coyotes started to play their brand of hockey.
There were mistakes, there were calls that didn't go the Coyotes way and a handful of bad plays, but Coyotes hockey made a comeback on Sunday. The forecheck resumed. Mike Smith looked like his now-expected stellar self. Passes were being made. It became palpable that the Coyotes had found their stride for the first time in the series and were beginning anew to believe in themselves.
When they won the game their way, I finally let out the breath I had been holding for nearly three hours. A Phoenix team was not being swept by another L.A. team with more talent. They played well for the most part, posted the win and took one on the road. The Coyotes needed that.
As my fellow coworker Adam Green said, the Coyotes could not end such a great year with a sweep in their first ever conference final appearance. Thankfully, they didn't and the reactions from the fan base were incredible. A majority of people went from thoughts of what to do in the off-season to talking about the likelihood of a Game 7. When the Coyotes took Game 4 -- just one game -- from the Kings, they took back their pride and gave the fans, both veteran and bandwagon, something to be hopeful about.
The Coyotes will likely not win this series, nor should they. The Kings have been the better team and have looked sensational the entire playoffs. They've only lost twice in their great postseason run, but once was to the Coyotes. Don't get me wrong, if the Coyotes steal the series out from under their rivals, it would be legendary (and record setting) to say the least, though I don't think that will happen.
But at the end of the day, no matter what that final outcome of the series, the Coyotes, much like myself during high school soccer, have now earned the right to say, "At least we took one from you."