Found April 08, 2012 on Red Light District Hockey:
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For the third consecutive season, the Phoenix Coyotes made it to the postseason on the back of their tight-knit, defensive system. Can they force other teams to play that game during the postseason?

Head coach Dave Tippett is simply a mastermind with the Xs and Os. After losing important pieces to the puzzle like Kyle Turris, Ilya Bryzgalov, Vernon Fiddler, Lee Stempniak, and Eric Belanger, Tippett found a way for his team to get even better. His teams succeed mainly because he teaches them how to play his game, and win on the strength of good defensive play.

That is how Tippett turned Radim Vrbata, a 10-year veteran, into a 35-goal scorer. He also made Mike Smith, a once-promising goalie turned backup, into a Vezina Trophy candidate. That is why young defensemen Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson could vie for the Norris Trophy one day.

Those players have pedigree and would add value to most hockey teams. What impresses me is how Tippett takes discarded journeymen like Kyle Chipchura and Gilbert Brule and turns them back into serviceable NHL players. Earlier in the season, he also utilized castaways like Patrick O'Sullivan, Alex Bolduc, and Marc-Andre Pouliot, to name a few others.

In other words, he's found a way to make something out of nothing. For three consecutive seasons.

But now Tippett and company need to find a way to win on their own terms during this year's playoff run. To do so, they will need the Chicago Blackhawks to alter their style of play and tighten up defensively. Similar to the Detroit Red Wings-- the team who defeated the Coyotes in each of the last two seasons-- the Blackhawks focus on puck possession and offense. Can Tippett force them to alter their game plan?

Tippett knows it won't be easy, and it will require a team effort but he remains optimistic.

"We've worked hard, gone through some trials and tribulations throughout this year and the guys have hung in there," Tippett explained to Yahoo Sports. "There were some times when it could have turned the other way and our guys grabbed it and kept pushing along. We've finished on a nice streak and hopefully we'll play our best hockey of the season in the playoffs."

Tippett feels that the Coyotes could further improve their showing over the last month in order to achieve a first round victory. That would mean playing better than their season ending five-game winning streak where they outscored their opponents 16-2. It would also mean playing better than their performance over the last month, where they went 9-2-4.

That sort of confidence in his players is exactly what has propelled this team to vault past their expectations en route to a Pacific Division title. It is also why they are the favored seed against a club that won the Stanley Cup just two years ago. The task of defeating the Blackhawks won't be easy, but getting there wasn't either.

So the Coyotes enter the postseason as one of the NHL's biggest question marks, and possibly the biggest dark horse. Smith has arguably been the hottest starting goalie in hockey with the ability to steal game after game. Should he display that elite play, this club could really surprise some people.

While the Coyotes are still owned by the league and rumors surround their 'imminent' move out of Arizona, this club managed to win their division for the first time in team history. Home ice advantage won't mean as much to them entering the playoffs, but knowing they can win on the strength of their system should give them the confidence they need to succeed.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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