BOSTON (CBS) — There is losing with grace and class, and there is losing in disgrace. Congratulations, Phoenix Coyotes, for choosing door No. 2!
In what may very well be the franchise’s final moment in Arizona, the Coyotes lost in overtime of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals to the Los Angeles Kings. There is no shame in that, as nobody’s been able to beat the Kings all postseason.
Yet, no other team chose to go out the way the Coyotes did, and for that, the Coyotes should feel shame.
The beginning of the end took place with 2:30 left in overtime. Michal Rozsival carried the puck across the blue line just after teammate Antoine Vermette crossed the line himself. The linesman blew his whistle for offsides, but he did not blow his whistle until after Brown had already begun making contact with Rozsival. Watch the replay and hit pause when you hear the whistle. You’ll notice that the two bodies have already collided by the time the whistle is blown:
So the hit was not late. But was it dirty? Well, no, not even a little bit. Brown certainly leaned into Rozsival (a necessary step if you’re trying to hit somebody, you know), but the fact that their legs collided was without question just incidental. Brown only leaned with his shoulder, and he never extended his left leg in order to hit Rozsival. After the collision, you could see Brown, an honest player by all accounts, immediately turn toward Rozsival after the collision, as if he wanted to apologize. In overtime. Of a playoff game. With a Stanley Cup Finals berth on the line.
If you think Brown intentionally made a knee-to-knee hit on Rozsival, you’re more than a little bit insane.
Cue the Coyotes postgame comments!
“If Raffi Torres gets 25 games for his hit during the play, then this guy [Brown] ought to be done forever,” Coyotes goalie Mike Smith said afterward, according to the Tucson Citizen.
(If you’re keeping track at home, he’s comparing a leaping head shot by a guy with a long rap sheet of dirty play to a shoulder-to-shoulder check that had some incidental leg contact. Solid.)
Captain Shane Doan, who stopped Brown in the postgame handshake line to offer his thoughts on the play, also drove the whambulance in the dressing room.
“How do you miss that?” Doan cried. “I mean Rozy’s knee’s blown out. How do you miss that? How do you miss that when it’s after the whistle and it’s a knee? How can you possibly miss that?”
Here’s one answer: It was not after the whistle.
Here’s another answer: Not every hit that includes two knees colliding is dirty and intentional. Sometimes, it happens.
Smith had more to cry about as well, in between his bites on his whamburger and french cries.
“It’s disappointing we not only got beat by them but got beat by the officials, too,” Smith said, according to Yahoo!, before bragging about his amazing 20-20 vision. “It’s not just that [Brown] play — it’s all game long. They called us for three offsides in the first period and none of them were offside.”
(A brief timeout: Smith stands in his net, which is positioned more than 100 feet away from the offensive blue line. Yet, he knows his team wasn’t offside. That’s incredible.)
“[A Kings player] flipped it over the glass — how do all four refs not see that?” he continued.
(Side note: There are only two referees and two linesmen on the ice for NHL games. There are never four referees. Apparently, in exchange for being gifted with phenomenal vision, Smith sacrificed his ability to count.)
“It’s not just this game, it’s all season long,” Smith said. “They did everything they could not to let us get to this position.”
Poor guy. If only the whole world hadn’t conspired against the Coyotes, maybe they would’ve won more than one game in this series. Maybe.
As bad as Smith’s and Doan’s postgame comments were, they weren’t the worst transgressions of the evening. Those came during the handshake line.
Now, there’s little argument in the sports world that the handshake line is the greatest tradition there is. In a sport as intense as playoff hockey, it’s incredible to see one team graciously accept victory and the other team respectfully resigned to defeat. Players show their true respect for each other, with some of the losing players offering words of encouragement to the winning players, while others are too overcome with emotion to even speak.
But the Coyotes took that tradition and disgraced it.
Before the handshake line even took place, Smith skated toward the referees (where alternate captain Keith Yandle and Derek Morris were already screaming in the refs’ faces), slammed his stick on the ice and shouted at them, as if they had just allowed the season-ending goal.
Once in the line, the other alternate captain, Martin Hanzal, stopped Brown in the line to share his thoughts on the hit. Seconds later, Doan took some time to shout his thoughts at Brown, too.
The Coyotes certainly have the right to be upset about anything they want, but to use the handshake line as a platform to whine and complain is just unacceptable.
Though it’s not surprising. The final goal came when Yandle tried to step up at the blue line and clear the puck but whiffed. He then was out of position and got beat to the net by Jeff Carter. Yandle then stood to the side as Dustin Penner’s game-winner flew past Smith and into the net.
Yandle’s immediate reaction? Turn to the ref and complain about a hand pass that never happened.
It was a good indication of what was to come from these Coyotes, and it perfectly displayed the difference between a team capable of winning a championship and one that’s only looking for excuses.
If the Coyotes do indeed leave Phoenix (which is anyone’s guess right now), would this not be the perfect ending to a chapter in franchise history that really never needed to happen?