First there was the head-shaking, shoulder-shrugging processing of a third period that got away from the Phoenix Coyotes. Then came the questions about the team's off-ice, limbo-ish situation regarding whether the NHL remains in Arizona or the sale to a would-be owner doesn't go through and the team is forced to move to Winnipeg.
That part is up in the air for everyone, even though coach Dave Tippett all but labeled it a distraction. What is certain is that the Detroit Red Wings were far and away the better team on the ice for four games, and they won all of them.
Wednesday's Game 4 was tied at 3 after two periods, and with one bit of misfortune, the floodgates of disaster opened up and overwhelmed the Coyotes.
Right winger Danny Cleary's shot from a right angle on the weak side with 6:19 left to play glanced off Phoenix goalkeeper Ilya Bryzgalov and into the net to give the Wings a lead they never relinquished. That was followed by a fluke of a goal by Todd Bertuzzi, who was in front of Bryzgalov and two defenders to poke the puck slowly over the goal line, and in a final moment of infamy, an empty net goal by Patrick Eaves with 35 seconds to play.
When the final horn sounded, the Coyotes' season was over. Most of the 17,314 remained in the stands at Jobing.com Arena and saluted the team with rousing and emotional chants of "Let's Go Coyotes!" Players raised their sticks in recognition as the chant lasted a good two minutes.
"We thought we had a chance, capped off with, I don't know what the word would be, miserable year off-ice for this organization," defenseman Adrian Aucoin said. "I think the players did just about everything they could and we did unbelievable under the circumstances. Come the playoffs they're still driving it through our brains that we might be moving out of here, so it was tough. It's no excuse... but for these poor young guys who had to deal with it for the first years of their careers it's almost devastating, I guess."
Bryzgalov was disappointed in his effort. It certainly wasn't his best, as the goaltender just couldn't find a rhythm throughout the series.
"Disappointed," he said, then described the decisive goal by Cleary. "The puck hit me in the side of the leg and it (went) into the net. Tried to catch it but it was too late. Obviously it was my mistake. The team deserved a better fate, a better result. I'm the reason why we lost (the game)."
Tippett said the Cleary goal was a microcosm of the way the series went for the Coyotes.
"That's just not the way you like to see things finish," he said. "If you looked at it, there were some times when we played fairly even but there was a lot of times where you talk about getting puck luck, well, they (the Red Wings) earned the puck luck."
The Coyotes led 2-1 and 3-2 during the game, hoping to extend their season. Taylor Pyatt, Shane Doan and Martin Hanzal had goals for Phoenix. Eaves finished with two for the Red Wings. Doan scored his third goal of the series.
As for whether Game 4 was the last game for the Coyotes in the Valley, Tippett said all of "that stuff" would be taken care of.
"Our guys did a very good job of managing it, keeping it outside the rink. That being said, there needs to be a solution to the situation. It is a competitive disadvantage... My focus is on how do we get better and how can we have the best chance to succeed on the ice, and the way to do that is stable ownership. I don't think you can win in this league without it.
"There needs to be a solution to it, to the situation here, and I think everybody recognizes that from the league to our management to our coaches to our players, so hopefully that distraction won't be there anymore."
Defenseman Keith Yandle said he's trying not to worry about it. Doan, who spent his rookie NHL season with the Winnipeg Jets before they moved to Phoenix and became the Coyotes, said he wishes he could enjoy the end of the year and look back on it fondly, but "now I have to worry about everything else, and that's a frustrating feeling."
Doan feels embarrassed that the Coyotes were beaten in four straight games. But he said he does plan to come back to the Coyotes, wherever they are.