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Are these the Coyotes' final games in Phoenix?

All eyes shift to the desert late tonight, as the Phoenix Coyotes attempt to stay alive in their first-round series with the Detroit Red Wings.

And the question on everyone's mind is, if they can't come back from down 2-0, will these be the final NHL games in Glendale, Ariz.?

Finding the truth in the Coyotes' troubled ownership situation is extremely difficult these days, but many knowledgeable people in the NHL community have been saying for weeks that the league's deal with Matthew Hulsizer is dead and that it will take an 11th hour miracle to keep the team in the desert.

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Others believe it's inevitable that Winnipeg gets an NHL franchise back at some point given all of the legwork done by Mark Chipman.

(That team could even be the Atlanta Thrashers rather than the Coyotes, depending on what happens in the desert in the next few weeks.)

It's apparent the NHL is waiting for the Coyotes to bow out of the playoffs before publicly taking the next step in this process, one that will mean big headlines as more specifics of the Winnipeg deal come out and even more pressure is put on the folks in Glendale to find a way to keep the team there.

Nothing has been decided yet, but there are definitely two options and a fork in the road ahead. And we're getting very close to the final step.

All of that adds to the peculiar drama that will take place on the ice tonight in Game 3, with the players and the fanbase knowing uncertainty looms once they stop playing in these playoffs.

Will that be so much of a distraction that they drop what's essentially a must-win game?

Or will it be added motivation?

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Either way, the majority of the attention this matchup will get outside of Phoenix and Detroit is due to the Coyotes' off-ice issues. As FoxSports' Craig Morgan writes, "the series has taken a back seat to the future of this franchise."

The fans left in Arizona, meanwhile, are showing up.

In one of the few positive signs left for the franchise, Arena is expected to be almost full tonight, with only 500 tickets remaining and the team holding a "WhiteOut" just like the franchise did when it was the Winnipeg Jets.

There are other similarities to the team's past life, too, as much like Winnipeg's final game, Coyotes fans will be cheering for the underdogs against the Red Wings in a series that's likely to go against them. (The team has never won a playoff series since the move.)

Unlike when the Jets left, however, Coyotes fans won't have any idea during these games what the future for the team holds.

Winnipeg fans came prepared for the inevitable in those final games, with one sign that last day reading: "Phoenix, take care of our boys."

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But if the Coyotes are eliminated later this week, with a building full of white-clad fans and against the Red Wings, there will be some curious symmetry to it all.

For now, no one knows. But that day's coming very soon.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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