The Clarence Campbell Bowl was in Staples Center for the first time, waiting to be presented by Commissioner Gary Bettman to the NHL's Western Conference champions. The Los Angeles Kings' long-suffering fans gathered downtown shortly after dawn, eager to witness a series sweep and a coronation.
And then Captain Coyote and his goalie crashed the party for a win that suggests this series is far from finished.
Shane Doan scored two goals, Mike Smith made 36 saves in his third playoff shutout, and the Phoenix Coyotes emphatically avoided playoff elimination with a 2-0 victory in Game Four of the conference finals on Sunday.
Ray Whitney and Antoine Vermette had assists for the Coyotes, who avoided the sweep by snapping the eighth-seeded Kings' eight-game winning streak and canceling Los Angeles' plans to celebrate its first berth in the Stanley Cup finals since 1993. With their backs against the glass, the Coyotes soundly outplayed an opponent that had been on an 11-1 run through the postseason.
"We recognize we put ourselves in a tough position, [but] we also know it has been done," said Doan, Phoenix's captain since 2003 and the sole remaining member of the Winnipeg Jets team that moved to the desert in 1996.
"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 [when] the odds are kind of stacked against you," Doan added. "Nobody wants to be in the position we're in, but everybody wants to prove they can answer that call."
Phoenix still must win three more games to become just the fourth team in NHL history to rally from an 0-3 series deficit, but the Coyotes finally regained the form they showed in knocking off Chicago and Nashville in the first two rounds.
Game Five is Tuesday night in Phoenix. Los Angeles is 7-0 on the road in the playoffs, but the Coyotes can't wait to see another whiteout in their stands.
"Two ways to look at it: They're either due to lose, or we've got to find a way to stop them," Doan said. "Law of averages says you're going to lose eventually on the road, so it happens. Next game wouldn't be a bad one to lose."
Doan scored on a power play in the first period and on a deflected shot in the second, silencing the crowd at the Kings' first loss since April 18. Smith, who has all three of his shutouts on the road, made several impressive saves while outplaying Jonathan Quick for the first time in the series.
"We had nothing to lose," Smith said. "We had to make sure we played our best game. That would give us a chance to win. We obviously had a huge game from Doaner, and it trickled down through our lineup. He was unbelievable. He was such a great leader tonight. Every guy knew that they were going to do their part to try to force this series to Game Five."
Quick stopped 19 shots with little help from his Los Angeles teammates, who were shut out for the first time in the postseason while hitting a bump in what had been one of the most impressive playoff runs in NHL history.