- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- One of the year's most entertaining playoff games produced a Stanley Cup finalist, an irate loser and a controversial ending.
Whew. Where to start?
Certainly not by the Coyotes, who felt it was a clear knee-on-knee hit that should have been penalized. It wasn't.
And wouldn't you know it, with the Coyotes bench still up in arms, Dustin Penner scored on the very next play, 17:42 into overtime, to win the game 4-3 and clinch a Cup finals berth for the Kings -- their first foray in the big dance since Barry Melrose and his boys in 1993.
While the Kings mobbed Penner (he of the Ron Burgundy homeless-man beard from "Anchorman"), the Coyotes slammed sticks and basically lost their minds on referees Brad Watson and Kevin Pollack for not calling a kneeing penalty on the previous shift.
A bizarre scene, to say the least.
Captain Shane Doan lost it on the ice after Penner's goal and didn't hold back when the media arrived at this stall, either.
"I bit my tongue the whole playoffs," said a clearly livid Doan. "I bit my tongue the whole time this series. I look back in the last two games and I still haven't found where I got my three penalties. I have absolutely no idea where they came from or what they were calling. It's hard because you don't want to take anything away from L.A. They played unbelievable, and give them all the credit. Uncle. Are you freaking kidding me? Uncle. I can't understand how you miss that."
After his tirade, the gritty captain sat in his stall with his skates still on, his heads in his hands. His team's remarkable season was over, but in a fashion that his team cannot accept. Especially since the Coyotes felt the hit was after the whistle.
"How do you miss that?" Doan added. "Rosie's knee is blown out. How do you miss that? How do you miss that when it's after the whistle and it's a knee? How do you possibly miss that? You know what? As player I get in trouble when I make a mistake. I get in big trouble. I get called out by you guys. I get called out by everybody. I get called out by my coaches. I have to be accountable to my teammates. I don't know how you miss it. I don't know how you miss it. I'm sure they'll have a great explanation for it. I'm sure they'll have a great explanation for it. I know that they try to do their best, I know they always try to do their best. They're going to make mistakes. It's just tough when you're on the short end of it I don't know how many times."
In the victorious dressing room, Brown didn't flinch. He insisted he did nothing wrong.
"I saw him cut in the middle," Brown said. "I changed my path to meet him in the middle. I haven't seen a replay so I don't know, but I felt like I made contact [with] my whole left side with his left side. My shoulder hit his shoulder for sure. I hit him from toe to shoulder on my left side, full contact. He's trying to get out of the way and I'm trying to finish my check. I don't think my first thought is, I didn't stick my knee out. He's trying to get out of the way and I finish my check."
Controversy aside, the reality is that the best team clearly won the series. There's no denying that. And while you have to admire the incredible tenacity the Coyotes showed right to the end, playing a superb game Tuesday night in trying to stay alive, the deeper and more talented squad is representing the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup finals.
One could hear the hooting and hollering outside the Kings' room before the media was allowed to enter. This was a special moment for a young team that barely made the playoffs. Now they're playing the best hockey in the NHL.
"It's crazy," said Kings star blueliner Drew Doughty, who was Olympic-great Tuesday night. "I still don't know what to say about it. We're so happy about it. We're in the Stanley Cup finals. That's what we've dreamt of our whole lives."
When presented with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, Brown refused to touch it as many captains also do out of superstition. Wrong trophy.
"It's called the Stanley Cup playoffs for a reason," Brown said.
Down the hall, the sight of dejection. The Little Team That Could was finally out. The Coyotes beat Chicago, they beat Nashville and they didn't roll over after going down 3-0 in the series to L.A. An overtime goal for the Coyotes on Tuesday night and it would have been an awfully intriguing turn in the West finals.
"Our guys never quit, which is something the guys in this room can be proud of," Coyotes blueliner Derek Morris said. "It would have been easy to pack up and say we're not coming back. But we believed we could."
And of course, there's this: Did the Coyotes play their last game in Phoenix on Tuesday night? Their proposed sale to a group led by Greg Jamison is still not finalized, so the future of the team remains in limbo.
Veteran winger Ray Whitney said it hadn't even dawned on him.
"Not until you just mentioned it; this team has been very focused and leaving that outside the game," he said politely. "Now that you say that, we'll probably all reflect on that the next couple of days: Will we be here or will we not? But as a group, we certainly did the best that we could to bring the excitement of hockey back in the desert. So hopefully it'll all work out."
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