GLENDALE, Ariz. – In a lot of ways, Saturday night’s Coyotes’ season finale against the Minnesota Wild was bittersweet.
It started with the return of Craig Cunningham, the former Tucson Roadrunners captain who nearly lost his life in November.
Then, fans applauded captain Shane Doan, chanting “one more year” for the longtime Coyote who might call it quits this offseason.
Zbynek Michalek likely played his last NHL game.
Arizona saw the return of former Coyotes Martin Hanzal and Ryan White for the first time.
And of course, the season ended.
The Coyotes (30-42-10) capped their year with a 3-1 loss to the Wild (49-25-8), ending a night that evoked emotion for so many reasons.
“(We played) probably how you’d expect to play when you’re not in the playoffs and it’s the last game of the season,” goaltender Mike Smith said. “I think a lot of guys were mentally checked out, and have been for quite some time now.”
Smith didn’t mince words.
“Yeah, well…” head coach Dave Tippett began. “He can leave that in the dressing room.”
It started with a goal by the Wild just 4:13 into the game. Smith went behind his own net but was caught in some trouble, and Erik Haula capitalized on a feed from Jason Pominville. 1-0 Wild.
Later in the first period at 10:47, Brendan Perlini went to the box and Minnesota’s Erik Staal caught the Coyotes on another mistake. A power play goal made it a 2-0 game.
After that, Smith didn’t allow a goal until late in the third period. He finished the night with 42 saves on 45 shots.
Meanwhile it was Darcy Kuemper – not former Coyote Devan Dubnyk – starting in net for Minnesota. The Coyotes didn’t generate much on Kuemper, putting just 21 shots on net.
While the second period was uneventful – other than a shoving match that ended with coincidental minors for each team – Perlini got Arizona on the board with a goal in the third period, assisted by Doan and Alex Goligoski.
So, in what could be his last game, Doan got a point.
Then, Hanzal answered back. As if there weren’t already so many storylines to the evening, he made it 3-1 against his former team with a goal at 13:35 in the third period, thanks to a feed from Mikko Koivu and Matt Dumba.
The Coyotes pulled their goalie, but neither team put one home.
3-1 is where the score would remain.
Also during the third, Wild star Zach Parise took a stick to the face from a teammate, leaving him bloodied right before the playoffs.
After the game, the emotion was capped with a teary-eyed Michalek, who stopped multiple times during a meeting with the media to compose himself. He reflected on his career, at what’s likely the end.
“The whole career just flashes before my eyes, and just how lucky I was to play for so long,” Michalek said. “Playing in this great city, great organization, the people I’ve met along the way – the friendship and everything – it means a lot. I couldn’t be more thankful.”
The Wild will head off to the playoffs. And as fans wonder whether favorites like Doan or Michalek will return, the Coyotes go home for the summer.