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Coyotes have a glimmer of hope

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Phoenix Coyotes had every reason to concede the Western Conference finals to the Los Angeles Kings.

They had been overwhelmed in opener, lost their composure in Game Two and found themselves on the brink of elimination despite playing better the third game. Even with a sweep, it would have been considered a good season in Phoenix.

That's just not the makeup of this team.

These desert dogs are at their best when cornered and they took the first step toward digging out of a monumental hole by beating the Kings, 2-0, in Los Angeles on Sunday.

There's still a long way to go, starting with Game Five tonight (9 p.m., NBCSN and Ch. 5) in the desert, but a chance, even just a slight one, is all this team seems to need.

"We had no other choice; if we didn't show up yesterday, we wouldn't be talking today," Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata said Monday after Phoenix's optional practice.

After grinding series against Chicago and Nashville to reach the conference finals for the first time, Phoenix appeared to be overmatched by the Kings' combination of skill, size and grit.

Los Angeles dominated the opener and the Coyotes' frustration spiraled out of control in Game Two with a flurry of penalties and questionable hits. Phoenix played better in Los Angeles after losing the first two games at home, yet still ended up losing, unable to sustain momentum more than a few shifts at a time.

Their season on the line, the Coyotes got back to grind-every-shift ways in Game Four, packing in front of goalie Mike Smith on defense, forechecking to create opportunities on offense and winning individual battles.

Captain Shane Doan led the way with big hits and two big goals, and Smith had another rise-to-the-moment game in the crease, turning away 36 shots for his third shutout of the playoffs -- all on the road.

The Coyotes have played through more adversity in three years than some franchises go through, playing without an owner, no money to chase big-name players and with the uncertainty of wondering where they'll play the next season.

They also tend to play a by-the-seat-of-their-pants style, weathering their opponents' best shot -- often numerous shots -- before fighting back with a decisive blow.

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