The best day in the history of the Phoenix Coyotes?

756958.jpg

The best day in the history of the Phoenix Coyotes?

From Comcast SportsNetGLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- An hour before one of the biggest games in franchise history, the Phoenix Coyotes learned a deal was in place for a new owner, one they hoped would end three years of uncertainty.They celebrated in typical fashion: grinding out another victory.This one, though, will take them somewhere they've never been before: the Western Conference finals.Relying again on their grit and the superb goaltending of Mike Smith, the Coyotes beat the Nashville Predators 2-1 on Monday night to earn their first trip to the conference finals in 33 years as an NHL franchise."It feels great right now, a lot of hard work," Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle said. "It's been a battle the past few years, but it's a lot of fun and we're blessed to be where we are right now."The day started off with news the Coyotes and their fans had been anticipating for three years.Speaking as players from both teams warmed up in the hallway, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that a tentative deal had been reached to sell the Coyotes to former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison.The Coyotes paid it no mind. They had spent the previous three seasons with the uncertainty hanging over them and had learned to keep their focus on the ice, not what happens off it.Playing its usual counterpunching style, Phoenix withstood an early flurry by Nashville and followed with goals from Derek Morris and Martin Hanzal in the second period.And, as usual, the Coyotes gave up a late goal to make it interesting, this one by Colin Wilson with just under 6 minutes left.Phoenix has become accustomed to seat-of-their-pants victories, though, and they pulled out another one, nearly getting an empty-net goal by Smith before setting off a raucous celebration on the ice rink surrounded by desert.Next up for the Coyotes are the Los Angeles Kings, the first No. 8 seed to knock off Nos. 1 and 2 in the same playoffs."We've learned a lot as a group who we are and every guy has contributed in the series and the playoffs," said Smith, who stopped 32 shots. "It's been different guys in different series and it's been a big part of our success."Nashville, as it did all series, had plenty of good chances against Smith. Even forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn back from two-game suspensions, the Predators couldn't find a way to capitalize, hitting the post at least three times and managing one goal despite outshooting the Coyotes 33-17.The loss knocks Nashville out of the playoffs in the conference semifinals for the second straight season."They found a way to keep the puck out of the net," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "In the end, we had enough chances to win this series, but we didn't win. We couldn't bury anything past Smith."The Coyotes got some long-awaited good news before the game, when Bettman announced the league had a tentative deal to sell the team to Jamison.There's no official sale agreement yet and Jamison still needs to work out lease details with the city of Glendale, which could be a dicey proposition with conservative watchdog group the Goldwater Institute lurking. Still, after three years of waiting, the move toward ownership and staying in the desert took a big step.It had already been a great season.Relying on Smith and their protect-at-all-costs mentality, the unflashy Coyotes won their first division title as an NHL franchise and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 25 years.Phoenix moved within the brink of the conference finals for the first time by beating Nashville twice in the desert and again in Game 4 on Smith's second shutout of the playoffs.With Jobing.com Arena juiced and Bettman, not to mention their potential new boss in the house, the Coyotes played their pack-in-and-counter game the way they have all playoffs.Nashville had the advantage early in a tight first period, Phoenix took it late, but neither scored.The Coyotes broke through early in the second, when Pekka Rinne made a kick save on a breakaway by Shane Doan, but couldn't stop Morris' shot from the point after Phoenix reset.The Predators tried to rally, turning up the pressure.Instead of the tying goal, they hit the post three times -- twice in one rapid-fire sequence -- and had another shot blocked by diving Coyotes. Smith also made a snatching save on a wrister by Gabriel Bourque.Phoenix then went back to its counterattacking ways, with Kyle Chipchura breaking out, holding, then setting up Hanzal's wrister that Rinne couldn't see with a defender in his way."That is kind of how the series went," Predators defenseman Ryan Suter said. "We didn't capitalize on their chances and they came back and it ended up in the back of our net."Up 2-0, the Coyotes packed it in, diving to block shots while giving the Predators only slivers of shooting lanes.Wilson squeezed a puck through one of them with 5:59 left, flicking a pass from David Legwand past Smith, ending his scoreless streak of more than 160 minutes.The Coyotes wouldn't let them score again and Smith nearly ended it with a flourish, missing an empty-net by a few inches with 2 seconds left.It didn't matter at that point -- the Coyotes were on their way to the conference finals, capping one of the biggest days in franchise history with another wipe-the-brow victory."Coyote ugly -- that's kind of been the motto here," Smith said. "We just find a way to win."Notes: Doan played his 50th career playoff game. ... The team that scored first won every game in the series. ... Nashville went 0 for 4 on the power play. ... Phoenix played without D Rostislav Klesla, who was suspended a game by the league for his Game 4 hit on Nashville forward Matt Halischuk.

Jonathan Toews' late goal sends Blackhawks to win over Canucks

Jonathan Toews' late goal sends Blackhawks to win over Canucks

Jonathan Toews recorded a four-point night, including the game-winning goal, and Corey Crawford recorded his 200th career victory as the Blackhawks beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 on Sunday night.

Crawford, who had struggled in recent starts, stopped 25 of 27 shots in this one. Brian Campbell garnered his 500th career point with his primary assist on Panik's goal. Toews recorded two assists, moving ahead of Jeremy Roenick for 13th among the Blackhawks' all-time assist leaders (330).

Marian Hossa, who recorded an empty-net goal late, garnered his 400th point in a Blackhawks uniform.

The Blackhawks had one of their best first periods on Sunday night, outshooting the Canucks 18-9 and taking that 2-0 lead. Richard Panik scored his 11th goal of the season from the slot off Campbell's feed and Patrick Kane scored his 15th goal of the season.

The third wasn't nearly as good as Troy Stecher scored a power-play goal and Bo Horvat scored 46 seconds later. But Toews scored off a carom off the backboards with 1:18 remaining to regain a 3-2 lead, and Hossa’s empty-net goal sealed it.

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

From the high ground of hindsight, what unfolded in the Metrodome that day in 1995 was actually quite a big deal. But not for reasons that you could have really understood at the time watching the Bears stun the Minnesota Vikings 35-18 in the wild card round of the 1994 playoffs.

It was not so much the game alone. It was the overall context of the time for the Bears, before and after.

Though the 1995 season would get off to a 6-2 start for the Bears before their near-historic collapse, the Minnesota game would prove to be the high-water mark for the coaching tenure of Dave Wannstedt. This was the postseason, and the Bears looked to be going where then-president Mike McCaskey envisioned when he made the play to beat the New York Giants in securing Wannstedt, who was unquestionably the hot coaching prospect coming out of the Dallas Super Bowl pantheon after the 1992 season.

To fully grasp the situation, you need to understand the undercurrent of venom that had developed between the Bears and Vikings. Bears-Packers might have been the glitzy rivalry, but what had grown between the Bears and Vikings was true hostility, with little of the respect that the Bears and Packers had managed. The Vikings carried grudges for Pro Bowl slights going back almost to the Bears' Super Bowl win. One Bears defensive lineman remarked that his most hated opponent was Minnesota right tackle Tim Irwin, adding, "He's a guy that, if I ran over him with a car, I'd back up over him to make sure I got him." Dwayne Rudd's backpedaling taunt after an interception came a couple years later, but you get the idea.

What's easily forgotten looking back through the mists of time was the epic decision made by Wannstedt to make a quarterback change, from a quarterback he wanted in free agency to one he knew well from their time together at the University of Miami. That was every bit the turning point of the season and the real reason the playoff trip and win ever happened.

The Bears had been annihilated in their first game against the Vikings in the 1994 season — 42-14 — and something was really, really wrong, which become glaringly more evident just a few weeks later, even though the Bears were reaching a 4-2 mark under quarterback Erik Kramer, the centerpiece of an aggressive offseason foray into free agency. But the Bears then lost — badly — to the Lions and Packers, with Kramer throwing three interceptions against Detroit and two against Green Bay, the latter in only 10 pass attempts.

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

I talked privately to Kramer after the Green Bay game, specifically about why it was that he was playing his absolute worst against Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota, all teams with which he was intimately familiar. My thought: You know those defenses and where their people are going to be.

Kramer shook his head: "The 'other guys' I know. It's my own guys. I don't know where they're supposed to be."

It wasn't a comment on his receivers whatsoever. It was Kramer admitting bluntly that he was not getting the West Coast scheme of coordinator Ron Turner and its timing element.

Wannstedt knew it wasn't working and made the change to Steve Walsh, who'd been the Hurricanes' quarterback under Jimmy Johnson when Wannstedt was the defensive coordinator.

That was the tipping point, and Walsh and Wannstedt are among the principals of "Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon," airing on Monday at 8 p.m. on CSN.

Anyone with any time spent in or around the NFL knows that beating a team three times in a season is incredibly difficult. The Bears had been blown out in the first Minnesota game but had pushed the Vikings to overtime in the second and would have won had Kevin Butler not missed a 40-yard field goal try.

The playoff meeting was No. 3, and after the Vikings put up a field goal in the first quarter, the Bears scored with a Lewis Tillman touchdown in the second and just pulled steadily away from the winner of the only NFL division that produced four teams with winning records.

From there it would be another decade-plus — 2006 season — before the Bears would win a playoff game.