The Phoenix Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings lined-up for a neutral zone faceoff with 2:29 left in overtime of Game 5 of the Western Conference Final. Mike Richards won the faceoff back to Slava Voynov who forced the puck up the right boards and into Phoenix's zone before it was corralled by Dustin Penner. As Penner skated toward the middle of the ice, he softly backhanded the puck onto Jeff Carter's stick who skated in hard and took a bad angle shot that rebounded off Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith.
Penner scooped up the rebound and smacked the bouncing puck past Smith, queuing a celebration fit for a king on Jobing.com Arena ice.
Before the Western Conference Final began, things looked so promising for the Desert Dogs. They were still ownerless, yes, but the feeling surrounding the team was, "If they win the Stanley Cup, someone will have to buy the team. Right?" It took the Coyotes only 11 games to reach the third round and their goaltender was as hot as anyone. Smith and Vrbata were in the midst of career years, Ray Whitney's 77 regular season points were the most for a Coyotes player since the 2007-08 season and prospect Oliver Ekman-Larsson just completed his first full season in the NHL.
But, they ran into a team that needed just nine games to reach round three, had an even hotter goaltender and eventuality went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Two years later, it is hard for some to believe that the Coyotes not only failed to match the success of the 2011-12 season, but that they have not even come close. Finishing 10th and ninth in the Western Conference the last two seasons with a combined record of 58-48-24, the last time Coyotes fans saw their team in a playoff game was the infamous night two years ago.
Phoenix tried to recapture its dark horse success in a lockout-shortened 2013 season, but to no avail. They really missed the veteran leadership of the four players listed above, as well as Adrian Aucoin. Smith could not pick up where he had left off and his save percentage dipped from a spectacular .930 in 2011-12 to a lowly .910 in 2013.
By the time the 2013-14 season rolled around, the Coyotes had something they did not have during their 2012 postseason run -- ownership. The influx of a group of energetic owners, coupled with a 14-4-3 start, breathed new life into a fanbase beaten down by relocation rumors and city council meetings. But that is where the potential Disney movie ended as the Yotes finished 23-26-12 and missed the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Smith still couldn't replicate his first season in the desert and even the acquisition of the top scoring free agent of that summer, Mike Ribeiro, could not solve Phoenix's offensive woes.
In just two short years, the Coyotes went from being seven wins shy of hoisting the Stanley Cup to just seven wins above .500 in the era of the loser point. The whirlwind descent from lovable underdogs to underperfomers all began two years ago today with a guy who injured his back attempting to eat some delicious pancakes.