Jim Neveau, Managing Editor
After the first two games of this series, it could easily be argued that the Phoenix Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks were pretty evenly matched. Both games had gone to overtime, both teams had displayed some very solid goaltending and an ability to capitalize on mistakes when they were on offense, and neither team looked prepared to concede an inch as the series shifted to the Windy City.
Game 3 wasn’t much different, as both teams exchanged shots in the first period, but things took an ominous turn when Phoenix forward Raffi Torres drilled Chicago’s Marian Hossa with an open ice check that sent the star winger sprawling to the ground. After several minutes, team doctors and paramedics wheeled Hossa out of the arena on a stretcher, and he was taken to a local hospital for observation.
After that, matters on the ice didn’t seem as important but the team’s solidered on. The Hawks took the lead at the end of the first period, and held it throughout the second. In the third period, Phoenix tied it, Chicago took the lead back, and Phoenix re-tied it, all within a minute and five seconds of each other. After that, no one else scored, and for the third game in a row, the contest went to overtime.
This time, the Coyotes ended up prevailing when Mikkel Boedker scored a fluky goal from a weird angle to give Phoenix back home ice advantage with a 2-1 series lead.
All of those events were significant, but there were five things in particular that stood out about this contest, and they could go a ways towards revealing how the rest of this first round battle will play out.
Coyotes’ Grit, Never-Say-Die Attitude Apparent
If there was anything that marked the first two games of this series, it was this: the Coyotes were playing a very gritty and physical game to slow down the Hawks’ offensive prowess, but Chicago never gave up, and managed to tie both games late and ended up prevailing on Saturday in Glendale.
On Tuesday, however, it was Phoenix’s turn to take that second mentality to heart, as they just kept battling even while down 1-0 for the entire second period and for a good chunk of the third. Then, even as Chicago snatched the lead back from them after the Coyotes had tied, they went right back down the ice and tied it up again.
Even in overtime, when the energy of a building is always tense, the Coyotes persevered and even though they were outshot by the Hawks 6-2, that second shot was key, as it was Bodeker’s shot that eluded Corey Crawford.
Another key for the Coyotes was their ability to dish out hits, as they racked up 39 of them in this game. Usually, the hits statistic is a little misleading, as it tends to skew toward the home team, but the fact that they were only out-hit by two in Chicago speaks to how physically hard they played, and it was a well-earned win in those respects.
Blackhawks’ Inability to Add on Costly
Despite scoring late in the first period, it did not seem as though they were able to build on that momentum much in the second period. It was a very quiet frame for both clubs, as the Hawks managed to outshoot the Yotes 10-6 but never really seriously threatened to put the puck in the net.
In the first two games of this series, the Hawks seized the headlines for scoring late goals to tie the games, but the real big story there was that the Coyotes were unable to add on to their leads late in games. Despite this, they ended up 1-1 early on, and it was the Hawks who couldn’t add on to their lead tonight, and Phoenix made them pay.
Game 4 is going to be a crucial test for both clubs, as neither has proven that they are able to hold onto a lead. If the Hawks can bury the Coyotes early, they could have a great chance to run the table in this series. If Phoenix can do the same on their end, they will go back to Jobing.com Arena with a great chance to finish the series off on Saturday night.
How Long Should Torres Sit?
Even though the game came to an exciting conclusion on Tuesday night, the thing grabbing all the headlines wasn’t the final result, but rather an incident that once again shed an ugly light on what has seemingly been an epidemic of terrible violence during these NHL playoffs.
In the first period of the game, Marian Hossa of the Blackhawks was playing a puck near the benches when it was stripped from him by Keith Yandle. In one fluid motion, Hossa started turning and was leveled by a hit by Raffi Torres. The play lit off a veritable firestorm of controversy, with Tyson Nash calling it “as clean as you can get” on the Coyotes’ broadcast and sent others into calling for a 10 game suspension for the repeat offender.
For those who haven’t seen, it, here is the video of the play:
A couple of things stand out on the play. The first among those is the lateness of the hit. The puck was well away from Hossa when Torres made the hit, and TSN’s Bob McKenzie clocked it at .83 seconds. That may not seem like a lot, but in the eyes of the long-time hockey expert, it was plenty of evidence to call the hit “late”.
In addition, closer review does show that Torres left his feet while making the hit, thereby making it in the eyes of most observers a dirty play. You couple those two things with the fact that the principle point of contact seemed to be Hossa’s head, and you have a perfect recipe for a lengthy suspension.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, you also have Torres’ history of suspensions. He has been suspended several times in his career for questionable hits, but Hawks fans are most familiar with his work when he leveled Brent Seabrook behind the net in last year’s playoff series against the Canucks. He wasn’t suspended for that hit, but he likely won’t be so lucky this time.
When you consider his previous history, and the fact that the play was late, high, and hard, Torres should be looking at a minimum six game suspension. If it were the regular season, the ban should probably fall around the eight to ten game range, but with the condensed nature of the playoff schedule, it seems appropriate to compact it ever so slightly.
Considering that James Neal got a game suspension for trying to elbow two different Flyers in the head, and Carl Hagelin got three games for elbowing Daniel Alfredsson, it’s impossible to tell exactly what direction Brendan Shanahan should go, but needless to say, this seems to be a postseason to forget for the NHL.
Who Should Replace Hossa For Chicago?
Despite the good news that Hossa was taken to the hospital and was released shortly afterward, it would still be a stretch to think that he will be back anytime soon. With the most likely candidate to replace him (Michael Frolik) already being in the lineup to replace the suspended Andrew Shaw, the Hawks are going to have to draw from their pool of reserves, and they very well may bring in one of their “Black Aces” to see some action.
If they want to go with a guy who has been with them for a good chunk of the season, they will dress Jimmy Hayes. He has some offensive skills to go along with his physical play, and he would fit in well on the second or third line.
Another potential guy would be Brendan Morrison. He would be a good selection if the Hawks wanted to have a veteran presence in the lineup to replace Hossa, but he hasn’t had that much success since coming over in a trade with Calgary, so he wouldn’t exactly provide the punch Chicago will be looking for as they try to even the series.
The one real wild card here could be Brandon Saad. A rookie who made a big splash before being sent back to the junior level to complete the season, Saad very well could be this year’s Ben Smith for the Blackhawks, being an under the radar guy with a penchant for creating offense, and that could be just the recipe for the Hawks as they try to make the difficult transition to not having Hossa in their lineup for the foreseeable future.
Both Teams Earned Kudos in This Game
The big stories from this game will obviously be the Torres hit and the Coyotes coming back to win, but perhaps the most underrated element of Tuesday’s game was what didn’t happen. Specifically, the head-hunting that should have logically followed the hit on Hossa.
Both teams seemed to calm down after the play, with only a few scrums occurring, including a big brouhaha after the end of the second period that resulted in a penalty being called on Jonathan Toews.
Even with those select few incidents, the game was largely tame between the two clubs, and it was nice to see both teams respecting each other and not throwing a bunch of cheap shots either in retaliation for Torres or in defense of him.
James started out for The Hockey Writers covering the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, and has also covered the Chicago Blackhawks, served as NHL Correspondent, and is now a Managing Editor and the site’s NHL Central Blogger. He also writes for The Golf Writers.