LOS ANGELES - The bend-but-don't-break Phoenix Coyotes were much better as a team in Game 4 of the West final.
Sure they were outshot for the 13th time in 15 playoff games this spring, but they solved the Los Angeles Kings' "hound the puck" forecheck and backcheck with crisper puck movement and an increased level of determination for an entire three periods.
But as much as the Coyotes were better as a unit in their 2-0 win over the Kings, it was difficult to ignore the contributions of two elder statesmen in captain Shane Doan and defenceman Adrian Aucoin, and their money goalie Mike Smith.
Doan scored both goals. Smith made 36 saves for his third shutout of the post-season. Aucoin returned to action from an undisclosed lower-body injury that kept him out since May 7, but he stabilized the Coyotes blue-line and was a big reason why they moved the puck better out of their own end.
"[Aucoin] helped a lot," Doan said. "He's a guy we count on. We're fortunate that we have seven or eight [defenceman] that we can play. Having him back there, the experience that he's brought has been invaluable for us.
"I think a big thing is we were able to make that first pass over and over again. As a group we made that first pass better. We got it past the blue-line. Too many times we were trying to make the cute pass just short of the blue-line. The next guy was having trouble handling that pass. They were able to turn it over. If we can make the pass over the blue-line, it opens up a little more ice."
Whether the 38-year-old Aucoin will be available for Game 5 back in Phoenix on Tuesday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 9 p.m. ET) remains to be seen. He only played three shifts in the third period and the Coyotes didn't have an update on his status following the game.
Meanwhile, prior to the game The Coyotes gathered for a team meeting on Saturday evening. Head coach Dave Tippett's message was simple: there was plenty of room for improvement.
"We hadn't played as well as we'd like in this series," Tippett said. "We'd been through a lot of battles together. We might as well continue battling for a while. That was what the mindset was going in.
"We put too much work in to let this slip away. It's time to see if we can work back a little bit. We put that work in tonight and we got ourselves one, and now we're going to strive to do that and see if we can up that for two."
Doan described the Coyotes dressing room prior to Game 4 as quiet. Other than some encouraging words from defenceman Keith Yandle, Ray Whitney and Derek Morris, not much was said. "The right guys said the right things," the 35-year-old Doan said.
Tippett, however, praised his captain for the right things, too.
"You don't see all the things that happened behind the scenes in the dressing room, inspiration for the guys there, how much he cares about this team and winning," the Phoenix coach said.
"When you can do that behind-the-scenes stuff, bag it up with the on-the-ice stuff, it speaks volumes for who he is. We don't have to sit here and talk about Shane Doan. Our players know, the league knows how strong-willed a guy he is. He went into this game thinking 'we don't want to be swept.' That was the effort he put forth. Great to see."
Doan has been around for a long time, but this is his first trip to the conference final. He wants to remain in Phoenix for the rest of his career, but with the uncertainty of whether Greg Jamison's ownership bid will be successful the next best thing for Doan was to make sure the Coyotes at least extended their season by a game.
"We recognize we put ourselves in a tough position," Doan said. "We also know it has been done. I guess that's what sports are all about, trying to do something that someone hasn't done for a while, try to do things that the odds are kind of stacked against you. Nobody wants to be in the position we're in, but everybody wants to prove they can kind of answer that call.
"We got an unbelievable group of guys in our room. It sounds cliché-ish, every team that reaches this point says the same thing about their guys, but I really think our guys are special. We got just a good group and I like it."
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?