CHICAGO – Mike Smith refused to budge. He protected the goal as if there was a “no pucks allowed” sign dangling from around his neck.
And now, thanks to his first career post-season shutout, the Phoenix Coyotes are finally moving on to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Smith made 39 saves, frustrating the Chicago Blackhawks by stopping shots from all angles and body positions—especially early in the game when he faced an onslaught—as the Coyotes won 4-0 Monday night to wrap up the first-round series in six games.
“He was unbelievable,” said Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who began his career in Winnipeg in 1995 and had waited a long time to celebrate a series victory.
The Coyotes captured a first-round series for the first time since moving to Phoenix for the 1996-97 season. It is the first series triumph for the franchise since 1987 when it was still in Winnipeg as the Jets.
“It was just one of those games when pucks were hitting me and our guys were doing a good job to get rebounds over there and tie guys up after their shots. It was just the rhythm of the game, it seemed like,” Smith said.
Or as Phoenix coach Dave Tippett described it: “The hockey gods were probably looking down on us, giving us a chance, and Smith cleaned up the rest.”
Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored in the second and Gilbert Brule, Antoine Vermette and Kyle Chipchura had goals in the third.
The Coyotes won all three games at the United Center—Monday night’s game was the first in the series not to be decided in overtime—and now move on to play Nashville in the conference semifinals.
Smith had 229 saves in the six games.
“I don’t know what to say right now. We worked so hard, we had so many chances, and every time we had a chance and it didn’t go in, we said, ‘Keep working, we’ll get another one. It’ll go in eventually,'” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said.
“They play well around Mike Smith, his size especially. We got so many pucks through and they always found a way to hit him in the head, the pads or the shoulder. We didn’t get any lucky ones on him. He played great, but we didn’t find a way to beat him.”
Chicago had a 39-20 shots advantage, but after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, the Blackhawks have been ousted two straight years in the first round.
Ekman-Larsson’s long slap shot from the top of the slot on a power play sailed by a screened Corey Crawford at 13:14 of the second period after Chicago had forced the action most of the night.
Martin Hanzal, who returned after missing three games, provided the screen for the Coyotes, who scored on their sixth shot of the game and went on the power play after an interference call against Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks had 22 shots at the time of the Coyotes’ score, but Smith was too good to crack.
And then Brule took Chipchura’s nice pass from behind the net early in the third and poked it past Crawford for a two-goal lead. The Blackhawks had rallied in the third-period four times during the series to the tie game, but not on this night with the 6-foot-4, 218-pound Smith stopping everything thrown his way.
Chicago’s Jimmy Hayes was given a game misconduct and a 5-minute boarding penalty when he slammed Phoenix’s Michael Rozsival from behind and drove him face first into the glass. Rozsival stayed down on the ice for about a minute and then skated off with some assistance at 8:47 of the third.
The Blackhawks nearly killed the 5-minute power play off before Vermette scored with 42 seconds remaining by tipping in a shot—his fourth goal of the series. Just less than two minutes later, Chipchura scored again.
The Hawks came out and dominated play in the early going with an 11-1 shots-on-goal advantage in the opening nine minutes. Only two great stops by Smith on point-blank attempts by Andrew Shaw and Hayes kept the Blackhawks from taking an early lead. Another shot attempt by Johnny Ouya hit the side of the goal. Chicago had eight shots in the first 3:14 of the game, peppering Smith, and finished the scoreless period with a 16-2 advantage.
“It was fun not to go to overtime. Mike Smith was awesome. … We expect him to play the way he has,” said Coyotes’ defenceman Keith Yandle, adding that the Coyotes were especially pleased to advance because of what it means for Doan.
“It’s a relief because you just want a chance to do something in the playoffs,” said the 35-year-old Doan.
” Everyone always talks about if you get out of the first round, anything can happen.”
After his stellar first period, Smith picked right up. He stopped Toews in the first minute of the second and then used his left pad to snuff Brendan Morrison after he moved into the slot for a pass from Toews. Minutes later a scrum in front of the goal resulted in Smith sitting on the puck with Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Andrew Brunette down on the ice with him following a hard shot from Niklas Hjalmarsson.
“The ice was tilted a little bit for the first couple of periods, but we gathered ourselves between the second and third and found a way to win a huge hockey game,” Smith said.
NOTES: Smith had eight shutouts during the regular season. … Phoenix was 5-0 at the United Center, including two regular-season wins. … The Blackhawks went 0-for-2 on the power play, leaving them 1-for-19 in the six games. …. Marian Hossa, knocked out of the series by a shoulder-to-head hit from Raffi Torres in Game 3, was at the United Center Monday morning. “”I always look back at series. If there’s a point or situation you could say was the turning point, I think that was probably the one,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said of losing Hossa, the team’s points leader. Torres got a 25-game suspension for the hit. Chicago’s Shaw, suspended three games for running into Smith in Game 2, returned to the Blackhawks’ lineup. …. Phoenix D Rostislav Klesla had to leave the ice 69 seconds into the game when he collided with Chicago’s Morrison. He returned in the second period with a red and puffy right eye and a protective cage on the front of his helmet.