SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Chugging over the blue line at the end of a lung-wringing shift, Shane Doan gathered a pass from a linemate, wound up and let fly from the left circle.
As the red light and the final horn seemed to go off simultaneously, the Phoenix Coyotes captain drifted backward on his skates toward the sideboards, his face filled with a mix of astonishment, curiosity and exhaustion.
“I didn’t know if they’d count it,” Doan said Monday.
They did — well, after an anxious video review — leaving Doan beaming and the crowd roaring after he ended one of the more inexplicable streaks in NHL history.
One of just two players to score 300 goals and never get a hat trick, Doan left Scott Mellanby alone in that category Saturday night, scoring his third goal of the game with less than a second left in a 5-1 win over the New York Islanders.
After years of ribbing from teammates, questions from reporters, so many near-misses, Doan finally had his first NHL hat trick in his 1,161st game.
“It was nice to finally get it,” Doan said.
One of the most respected players in the league, the hard-working Doan has always been a goal-scorer, notching a career-high 31 in 2008-09, 308 in 16 NHL seasons. He’s had hat tricks before, too, including one at the 2007 world championships for Canada against Belarus.
He just was never able to get three to go in during an NHL game.
Doan had been oh so close so many times, scoring twice in a game 38 times — including the opener against San Jose this season — to tie Petr Sykora for most in NHL history for a player without a hat trick.
It just seemed that whenever he got to two goals, the third one wouldn’t go in — off a post, just over a crossbar, turned away by a goalie’s spectacular save.
Against the Islanders, Doan quickly ended a six-game goal-less streak, scoring 1:41 into the game on a rebound. He scored quickly again in the second period, squeezing the puck between the pads of goalie Evgeni Nabokov after New York was caught on a slow line change.
Doan’s teammates didn’t particularly look for him as the game moved into the third period, more interested in building a lead than setting up the captain.
But as the game wound down into the closing minutes and Phoenix was comfortably in front, the Coyotes started short-shifting so Doan could get back on the ice and were looking for him at every chance, particularly linemate Ray Whitney.
With a buzz building inside Jobing.com Arena, Doan had a couple of near misses in the final two minutes, drawing groaning oohhhs! from the crowd each time the puck caromed away.
Just when it seemed Doan was headed for yet another hat-trick-less game, he came through with a magical moment his teammates and Coyotes fans likely won’t forget any time soon.
“It’s been a long time, so it was certainly a relief,” Whitney said. “Certainly, it was nice that he did it (at home) and the crowd was chanting his name was pretty neat, so we were excited for it. He worked hard for it.”
Fitting for this hard-luck, hat-trick quest, the end wasn’t easy.
With his teammates wanting him to get that third goal, Doan kept hopping the boards back onto the ice in the final five minutes, grunting as he went over, burning his lungs and the muscles in his legs with each turn.
With the clock winding down to the closing seconds, he stayed out on what turned out to be one final, brutally long shift.
Head down, Doan came charging into the zone, looking up briefly to see 4 seconds left on the clock. Whitney skated up the middle with the puck, taking two defenders with him, waited for his fellow veteran and dropped a pass back to the left circle.
Using a tap to corral the puck, Doan lifted his stick for a slapshot from the top of the circle, sending a big blast that seemed to catch Nabokov off guard and ripped through the goalie’s pads as the final horn sounded.
After a moment to see if the goal counted and to gather himself, the 35-year-old broke into a light-up-the-arena smile as he was mobbed by teammates along the boards.
Even then it still wasn’t over.
Unsure if the puck had crossed the goal before time expired, the officials went over to the scoring booth for a review.
It showed the puck cross over the line with 0.1 seconds.
The crowd erupted with the official’s goal-is-good signal and hats started flying onto the ice. Doan threw his head back and broke into another giant grin as teammates mobbed him for a second time.
With chants of “Doan!” ringing out, the player teammates call Doaner skated around the ice, waving to the crowd. He came back out after being named the third star of the game — second star Mike Smith threw a hat to the ice in honour of the hat trick — and again was greeted with more cheers and chants before heading into the locker room.
“The guys’ reactions and the crowd was what made it so enjoyable for me,” said Doan, who received calls, texts and emails from players and former teammates around hockey. “That was pretty cool.”
A walk-off hat trick, his first in over 1,100 games as a player, in front of a crowd that’s been looking for a reason to cheer during three years of uncertain ownership — yeah, pretty cool pretty much sums it up.