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It’s the Coyotes, so Game 1 win could not be easy

Glendale, Ariz. — The slogan for the 2011-12 Phoenix
Coyotes is “Hockey
the Hard Way.”

In their Stanley Cup Playoffs opener Thursday night in
Glendale against the
Blackhawks, it may as well have been “Making hockey harder
for ourselves.”

The Coyotes fell behind just 4:04 into the game when
Chicago’s Jonathan
Toews slipped a shot past Mike Smith, conjuring up
memories of last year’s
first-round sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings.

The Coyotes survived the rest of the first period and went
into the
intermission down just 1-0, and then something
unexpectedly expected
happened:

They fought back.

The Coyotes showed their trademark resilience in the
second period,
storming back with goals from Taylor Pyatt and Antoine
Vermette, allowing
the Desert Dogs to take a 2-1 lead into the third.

“We finally got some rhythm in our game a little bit,”
Coyotes coach Dave
Tippett said of what changed in the second period.

The Coyotes played pretty well into the third, too, and
for 19 minutes and
45 seconds, it seemed like the lead would hold up.

That is, until Chicago’s Brent Seabrook punched a shot by
Smith and the
Coyotes square in the gut, tying the game and sending it
to overtime.

No worries, though, because these are the Coyotes. It
wouldn’t be them if it
wasn’t at least a little difficult.

“We’ve had it happen probably three or four times to us
this year, so we
can deal with it,” captain Shane Doan said of the late
goal. “It’s one of those
things that it’s just the way it is.

“That’s just how playoff hockey is played.”

Fortunately for the Coyotes — and most of the more than
17,000 fans in
attendance — the team fought back once again, with Martin
Hanzal scoring
at the 9:29 in overtime for the win.

Final score: Coyotes 3, Blackhawks 2 (OT).

It wasn’t easy but it was a win, and at this point in the
season that’s the
only thing anyone cares about.

And, after managing to notch the win Thursday, you can’t
help but feel
good about this team’s chances. After all, they couldn’t
even lose when
they seemingly tried.

To wit: The Coyotes were outshot 45-34 and allowed four
power plays —
two in the third period — and still found a way to win.

Whether or not this year’s team is anymore talented than
the last two that
flamed out in the playoffs is up for debate, but what is
not — especially
after
what transpired in Game 1 — is the fact that this team is
as mentally tough
as they come.

After all, it would seem like it would be tough to bounce
back after letting a
lead slip away in the game’s final seconds and having to
go to overtime to
win.

“We were viewing it as more of an opportunity,” Doan said.
“That’s what
was talked about in the room. I mean, you get to the
playoffs and it’s
unbelievable, but to play overtime in the playoffs is…when
you’re a kid you
talk about scoring the overtime winner, that’s the way it
is.

“Not the way you want to go into it, but once you’re in it
you’ve got to find
the silver lining.”

And victories, of course.

As it stands, the Coyotes need three more to go where
they’ve never gone
before: the second round.

But that’s a long ways away, as this promises to be a
painstakingly difficult
series, for the players, fans and everyone else invested
in what happens on
the ice.

It’s not easy, but that’s playoff hockey. It’s also chippy
but again, that’s the
playoffs.

“I think everyone’s just ornery out there,” goalie Mike
Smith said. “It’s a fun
atmosphere to be a part of, it’s fun to play in games like
this.”

There’s at least three more left, though chances are
things won’t be settled
that quickly. Or easily.

After all, this is hockey the hard way.