There are numerous cliches you could use to describe what happened to the Coyotes on Saturday night, but let’s stick with this one: So close, yet so far away.
Many are confident that Phoenix has this all but locked up. They could triumph, but no matter how you slice it, the result of a vital juncture in this series amounted to this: The Coyotes were one goal away from eliminating a very good team from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in five games, and they didn’t score that goal. When it comes to everything else you normally talk about in a series, you’re dealing with something so unique with five straight overtimes that normal analysis scarcely counts for anything anymore.
Still behind the 8-ball themselves, you could talk about where it has gone wrong for the Blackhawks. Several Chicago weaknesses were on display throughout this series that the optimistic Coyotes fan can focus on: Weak goals let in by Corey Crawford, Patrick Kane missing in action, the team getting outplayed two games in a row at home in their infamously chaotic rink.
And there they were again on Saturday, not only trailing Phoenix through most of two and a half periods but getting shut out during that span as well.
Yet Phoenix Coyotes’ tight-style game bit the team in the behind once again, as a Tight-style game from time to time inevitably will. And suddenly, a series steeply titled in their favour is now only slightly so. It’s one game away from being wide open. The ‘Yotes gave the standard “that’s hockey, we’ve got a job to do” speech when asked to explain the defeat, but you have to wonder if those weren’t the most an awfully long 1800 miles any member of the team ever travelled heading back into Chicago, lamenting the missed opportunity to clinch a series victory for only the third time in the franchise’s 33 year history.
Because as exciting as this team as been, as admirable a performance as they’ve put on, as clutch and memorable’s as Boedker’s back to back OT winners were, they just failed their first major playoff test. And they did not fail it because of an unlucky bounce. Chicago wanted it more than them. That was the some of most one sided 2:44 of overtime on record in recent memory.
Thirty seconds before the end, Patrick Sharp (shooter), the high scorer with a penchant for key goals and a well-deserved “A” on his jersey, is buzzing all over the zone with a hard shot, scooping up the rebound and cycling it around. The Coyotes have zero control of the play at this point and could just as easily have been scored on then.
Then off the face off, I see the puck land on the stick of the worst possible person, Captain Serious Mr. Jonathan Toews himself, in the worst possible spot at the top of the hash marks with all the time in the world to tee up a beautiful wrister. I know Smith has no chance to stop this and he doesn’t. Overtime is over before any maroon jerseys can even penetrate Chicago’s defensive zone.
If there’s an upside to this for Phoenix, it’s that Chicago’s sizzle, fireworks and comeback that they put on last year and are the midst of putting on again ultimately fell flat. They know they are capable of playing their game at the United Center and winning because they have already done it. The most critical thing for the Coyotes now is to banish, or in any event don’t give any public signs of the fear and doubt creeping in. Momentum is on Chicago’s side now. Their best player played like he could when it mattered, overtime, and changed the course of the series. They can tie this up now and make it a total toss up.
What needs to happen is what needed to happen before Game 5. Whether it will is another matter. One of these times needs to barnstorm out the gates like Philadelphia yesterday and take charge of this series. Seven overtimes in a row would produce a winner but would provide little insight into who is actually the better team. Up until late Saturday night, it looked like a five-game result was going to provide an easy answer to that question. Now things are totally up in the air.