GLENDALE, Ariz. – Five games into their first NHL postseason trip in eight years, the Phoenix Coyotes find themselves with the odds against them and flirting with extinction.
No other NHL team is more in touch with that predicament.
From the moment they stepped in the ice in late August, the Coyotes have been counted out and dismissed, their fate sealed by poor ownership and their ticket out of Arizona all but punched.
So after losing the pivotal Game 5 in their Western Conference Quarterfinal at home to the Detroit on Friday, the Coyotes face a must-win at Joe Louis Arena Sunday, where the Red Wings have made a living sending teams home for the summer year after year.
They are also faced with the prospect of playing a third straight game without captain and leader Shane Doan, a game-time decision once again with an undisclosed upper body injury.
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett knows his team, and knows it will embrace the challenge -- even after losing back-to-back close games in the third period, when Detroit's skill and speed won out over Phoenix's pluck and persistence.
"If you've ever been through a team that's fought through adversity, this is one of them," Tippett said. "It seems like we just get plied on as it goes and that's just become part of our identity. The one thing we can do is be a team that lives up to our identity.
"We're going to be a team that never quits we're going to go in there and we'll be ready to go. We feel like we can compete with anybody, and we'll go in there with that mindset."
Phoenix had a franchise-record 107-point season -- and on the final day, all it earned them was a first-round matchup with a team that had been to the Stanley Cup Final in each of the last two years, sporting a lineup chocked with players toting championship rings.
"We have to work for everything we get. We've done it all year," said center Vernon Fiddler, who inadvertently kicked in the first Detroit goal of Game 5 while battling in front of the crease. "No one has thrown us a bone all year, so now we have to get one."
After scoring 11 goals in the first three games of the series and forging a 2-1 lead, the Coyotes have beaten Detroit rookie goalie Jimmy Howard only once in the last two games and have failed on 19 straight power-play chances.
Still, Game 4 was 1-0 Red Wings with five minutes left and Game 5 was 1-1 with 10 minutes left before Detroit's star plays – Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom – finally wriggled free to score goals in bunches and took over.
"It's a hard-fought game out there," said Zetterberg, who scored his sixth goal in the series with an empty-netter in the final minute on Friday. "They're playing really good defense, it's tough to get anything -- you've got to work hard for it. We had patience and finally we found a few ways to get the puck on net and score some goals."
The Coyotes' power play looked better with Mathieu Schneider inserted into the lineup as a specialist, and their only goal came seconds after a power play ended, with Ed Jovanovski tying the game on a rebound down low. But the Coyotes need goals against the Red Wings and the results aren't there.
It would be an emotional lift for the Coyotes if Doan could play on Sunday. He was able to skate on Thursday but has not attempted any contact since crashing shoulder-first into the boards in Game 3. Tippett made it sound like Doan was lobbying to play Friday but he just wasn't ready.
"It's one thing when he has a desire to play, but he has to be functional," Tippett said.