CHICAGO – Goalie Mike Smith and the Phoenix Coyotes caught the Chicago Blackhawks on their first game back after a long road trip and came away with a convincing victory.
The visiting Coyotes looked fresh. The glad-to-be-home Blackhawks were sluggish.
“We got in their face early in the game and were able to get a couple of goals to help take the pressure off and silence the crowd,” Smith said after stopping 24 shots in a 4-1 win Tuesday night.
“And then we just kept it up the whole game.”
Ray Whitney had a goal and two assists for Phoenix, which improved to 7-3-1 on the road. Daymond Langkow, Shane Doan and Radim Vrbata also scored.
Smith was working on his second straight shutout going until Patrick Sharp scored with 42.9 seconds left. He made a couple of nice saves in the final period but acknowledged, “I really wasn’t tested that much.”
“I don’t think they had their best game. I don’t think they were jumping like they usually do,” Smith said.
The Blackhawks were playing their first home game since Nov. 13 after splitting a six-game western trip. They had won their previous two games against the Ducks and the Kings.
“We were playing well there at the end of the California trip, and obviously didn’t carry it over to home ice,” Sharp said.
Most teams say the first game back after a long road trip is usually difficult, but Sharp wasn’t buying it.
“An excuse, an easy way out,” he said.
“We’ve got to be way more consistent and put a better effort on home ice than that.”
The Blackhawks are now 7-2-2 at the United Center, where they play 17 of their next 23 games.
When Whitney scored Phoenix’s second goal in the final period, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville pulled goalie Corey Crawford, who gave up four scores on 21 shots.
“When we’re playing well as a group, we can get up the ice, we can pressure the puck, and we can take away time and space and be successful,” Doan said.
“But you’re not going to do that too often to those guys, and the next team that plays them, it won’t be very much fun I’m sure.”
Langkow took a crossing pass from Whitney and his backhander hit Crawford’s glove before trickling into the net late in the opening period.
On a break, Doan got a dropoff pass from Mikkel Boedker and scored from the right circle midway through the second. Doan’s rising shot hit the post and went past Crawford.
Less than two minutes into the final period, Vrbata scored from the right side of the net for his 11th goal in the last 14 games and No. 12 on the season. He took a shovel pass from Whitney, who’d gained possession of the puck behind the net when the Blackhawks couldn’t control it.
“You try to play the same way every game and sometimes you have more luck than other times,” Vrbata said. “Right now it seems like the puck is going in for me, so hopefully it will continue like that.”
About four minutes later, Martin Hanzal controlled the puck behind the net and passed to a wide-open Whitney for another score.
“We were skating out there. We didn’t accomplish anything. We’d get the puck out of our zone and they’d ram it back in,” Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith said.
Chicago came out strong with four shot attempts in the first three minutes, but had only four more over the next period and a half.
NOTES: Chicago LW Daniel Carcillo returned to the lineup after he was a healthy scratch on the final day of the road trip Saturday in Los Angeles. Carcillo didn’t have a point in the five games he played on the trip. … Tuesday night’s game was part of a six-game stretch in which Phoenix plays five on the road, including two at the United Center. The Coyotes are right back in Chicago on Monday night.