Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 5/8/12
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GLENDALE, Ariz. One hour before the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators dropped the puck in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal series, a potential distraction was taking form mere yards from the Coyotes dressing room. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, prospective buyer Greg Jamison, Glendale city officials and the largest media contingent in Jobing.com Arenas hockey history were on hand for what Bettman called an update on the 3-year-old ownership saga. The timing was bizarre, given the magnitude of Mondays game and the potential for a shift in focus. But in the wake of his teams 2-1, series-clinching win, coach Dave Tippett shrugged off Bettmans press conference like his club has shrugged off every other diversion this season. It probably would have been a real major distraction if it was about going somewhere else, Tippett said, laughing. But our guys were very focused this morning on what we had to do. There were lots of rumors flying around earlier today and to a man, you didnt hear much talk about it. Nor did you sense its presence once the Coyotes took the ice. Phoenix was tight defensively, goalie Mike Smith was brilliant again and the club got goals from Derek Morris and Martin Hanzal to advance to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. Phoenix had never won a playoff series in its 14 previous seasons in the Valley. Now it has won two in a row to add to its first division title earned early in April. You get kind of beat up after not finding a way to get out of that first round, captain Shane Doan said. But its only halfway. Weve got to win four more and then regroup again. Anything seems possible with these Coyotes, particularly with Smith playing at an all-world level. With 32 saves on Monday, Smith raised his save percentage to .948 in the postseason, the second-best mark among goalies who have played at least four games. After besting one Vezina Trophy finalist (Pekka Rinne) in this series, he will face another finalist in Los Angeles Jonathan Quick in the next round. Obviously theyre not there by luck, Smith said of the Kings. Theyre a good hockey team. Theyve improved a lot. Its going to be another war another battle. Its hard to gauge the Coyotes chances in this series. The Kings are the hottest team in the league right now, coming off a sweep of No. 2 Western Conference seed St. Louis and a 4-1 series win over top-seed Vancouver. But the Coyotes are in uncharted territory now. Theyre gaining momentum with every win on the ice. Off the ice, Bettman is seeing a light at the end of the ownership tunnel, and with this leap to the conference finals, the Coyotes have ensured that more eyes than ever will be focused on their every move. I think the best part is so many people told you this could never happen, Doan said. It feels really nice to be living this right now. This was the dream all along, but the Coyotes deserve a pat on the back for never abandoning that dream in the face of mounting obstacles. I believe there are some great parts to this organization. We just need a chance, Tippett said. Theres not one person in that locker room who doesnt think (hockey) can work here, and theres not one person in that locker room not willing to put the work in to make sure it is successful here.
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