Coyotes’ Stellar Goaltending and Defense Send Chicago Packing

Six straight overtime games would have just been ridiculous, right?

The Phoenix Coyotes displayed that good goaltending and tight defense is the recipe for success in the playoffs, and the Blackhawks simply had no answer for them in a very hard-fought series by both teams.

Dwight King and Nick Leddy
(Robin Alam/Icon SMI)

The Mad House on Madison was left in shock as the Coyotes came into Chicago and handily defeated the Blackhawks 4-0, and eliminated the ‘Hawks 4-2 in the Quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Coyotes are advancing to the second round for the first time since the team moved to the desert from Winnipeg (Advanced to the second round as the Jets in 1987).

The first period saw no goals by either team, but some fantastic goaltending by Phoenix’s Mike Smith. He made several great saves, notably a huge save on Andrew Shaw off of a 2 on 1 with Patrick Kane.

Phoenix would get the offense going in the 2nd period after a questionable interference penalty on Jonathan Toews. On the ensuing powerplay, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson opened the scoring when his blast from the point found its way through traffic, and beat Corey Crawford to give Phoenix the 1-0 lead. That goal alone would have been enough for goaltender Mike Smith. But Phoenix wanted to drive the nail deeper into the Blackhawks coffin.

Phoenix would add to the lead at the start of the 3rd period when Gilbert Brule snuck behind the Chicago defense and deposited his 2nd goal of the series just over the glove of Corey Crawford.

Phoenix added another back-breaking goal on the powerplay as Antoine Vermette found the loose puck and beat Crawford on the stick side. Vermette has quietly been on of the best trade-deadline acquisitions, and finished this series with four goals and an assist to lead Phoenix.

Kyle Chipchura put the proverbial cherry-on-top with his first career Stanley Cup Playoff tally with just more than 5 minutes left in the third.

For Phoenix, this has been a season to remember. After much discussion about relocating and the loss of star goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, the team finds itself making history. This season has seen Phoenix win its first ever Pacific Division title and now, its’ first ever playoff round. Capatin Shane Doan finally gets his opportunity to play in the second round since being drafted by the Coyotes/Jets franchise in 1995. And it could not have happened to a better guy.

But can the magical run continue? We shall see.

On the flip side, the Blackhawks are left pondering what went wrong in this series. The bright side is, they now have all summer to think about it.

The Blackhawks got exposed this series, and their holes were gaping. Coming into the series, I said that the only way that Chicago will win this series is by simply outscoring the Coyotes. They needed to show why they were the 6th best scoring team in the league. They didn’t.

Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Viktor Stalberg, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa combined for an abysmal 3 goals and 12 points this series. Outside of Toews’  game-winning overtime goal in Game 5, the stars for Chicago did not produce when the team needed a spark.

Chicago’s special teams units were dreadful as well. The ‘Hawks were 1 for 19 on the powerplay during the series. The Coyotes’ PK unit and Mike Smith deserve some credit for shutting them down, but operating at 5% on the powerplay  is not going to cut it in the playoffs.

The core group of players for the Blackhawks are all set to come back next season, but there are still many questions that need to be answered. The main question is sure to be “Is Corey Crawford the guy that can lead this team to the Promised Land?”

That was the question going into the playoffs, and it is still the question being asked today. We will see if Stan Bowman sticks with his young net minder, or if he will be shopping around looking for a suitable replacement. One intriguing name could be Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo, but that is merely speculation on my part.

Look for my future article regarding the holes that the Blackhawks need to fill this offseason.