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Confident Coyotes finally clinch a playoff spot

Shane Doan just scored, giving the Coyotes a 4-1 lead,
leaving just 11 minutes and 38 between the team and its
second consecutive playoff berth. Oh, and the San Jose
Sharks.

The Sharks scored the next two goals, drawing within one
with 3:39 left, but the Coyotes were able to hang on and
not only beat the team captain Shane Doan had said owned
them 4-3, but also secure their spot in the Stanley Cup
Playoffs. It had been a long time coming.

“It’s amazing,” Doan said after the game, “you play 81
just for a chance to play some more.”

Indeed, there will be more games in the team’s future.
Though still not sure where they will ultimately be
slotted and who they will face, there was a general sense
of relief now that they are guaranteed a spot in the NHL’s
second season.

“You’re looking for that point,” head coach Dave Tippett
said, noting how the team had let some slip away in
shootouts. “You want to get it behind you, so when you
finally get those points to get in, you’ve secured the
spot, there is a sense of relief.

“That’s what you fight for all year, to get a spot, and
when you get it it’s a good feeling.”

Forward Radim Vrbata agreed.

“Now we don’t have to look at Dallas or anybody else,”
he said. “Now we’re in and now we can worry about
ourselves for the next week.”

And, with the team healthy for the first time in weeks, it
seems as if there is not much to worry about in Coyote-
land these days. Bolstered by the return of center Martin
Hanzal, the Coyotes looked every bit the contender Friday.

Ilya Bryzgalov, a Vezina Trophy candidate, stopped 24 of
27 shots en route to his 130th career win as a Coyote. His
effort was supported by a balanced scoring attack, with
goals from Andrew Ebbett, Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata as
well as Doan.

Add it all up and you have a team that believes it can
beat anybody, especially after finally beating a Sharks
team that had, as Doan said, dominated them in recent
times. That doesn’t quite sum it up, as the Coyotes had
dropped the last eight in the series.

But the team is getting healthy now, and the timing
couldn’t be better. Tippett, pleased with his team’s
effort Friday, said they can keep the focus on themselves
now and not have to worry about external factors.

“Getting healthy is a big part of us trying to be
successful in the playoffs,” he said. “We’ve got some
young players that have come in and played pretty well but
if you can have those guys that have NHL playoff
experience are invaluable.

“We had some guys get some valuable experience last year
and hopefully that will help us this year.”

Yes, making the playoffs is old hat for these Coyotes.
Still, the excitement at Jobing.com Arena was noticeable
throughout the night. While not intense like one could
expect the crowd to be during White Out time, the noise
was noticeable and the chants many.

“It was a great crowd,” forward Keith Yandle said. “I
think we definitely did feed off them and obviously it
helped us out.”

Even after the game cars exited the arena with Coyotes
flags, which were given away at the game, attached to
their windows. In other words, the Valley is ready. And so
are the Coyotes.

“It’s going to be fun,” Doan said. “Obviously I want to
play more than two and a half of them, but it’s been a lot
of fun.”