GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Chicago Blackhawks have been oh-so-close throughout their series against the Phoenix Coyotes, lamenting their missed chances while falling into a two-game hole.
After Jonathan Toews buried an opportunity into the back of the net early in overtime, the Blackhawks are headed back home with hope that the improbable is now possible.
The Blackhawks scored another tying goal in the third period and Toews punctuated it by scoring 2:44 into overtime, helping Chicago stave off elimination with a 2-1 win over the Coyotes Saturday night.
“We stuck with it,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We kept talking about shots and shots and traffic; we had a nice break and a nice play on the last goal, but it’s that tight.”
The Blackhawks tied it in the third period for the fourth time in the series, though this one came a little earlier than the others with Nick Leddy scoring midway through the period.
That led to the fifth straight overtime game—a first in the NHL since 1951—and Toews came through, beating Mike Smith stick side for his first goal since the opener to pull the Blackhawks to 3-2 in the series.
Corey Crawford stopped 18 shots after allowing relatively-soft goals in overtime the previous two games, giving the Blackhawks a chance with some comeback history on their side; they rallied from 3-0 down to push Vancouver to a Game 7 in the second round last season.
Their chance to even the series against the Coyotes comes Monday night in Chicago for Game 6.
“We’ve got to come out and have a strong effort in Chicago,” Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook said. “We’re going home, which is going to be good, and try to get a lift from the fans and try to get a big win.”
With Gilbert Brule scoring his first career playoff goal in the second period and Smith turning away everything through a busy first two periods, Phoenix appeared to be headed into the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1987, when the franchise was still in Winnipeg.
Instead, the Coyotes gave up another third-period goal and couldn’t come through in overtime, forcing them to win in Chicago for a third time in the series or face an anything-can-happen Game 7 Wednesday at home.
After losing forward Raffi Torres to a 25-game suspension earlier Saturday for his Game 3 hit on Marian Hossa, it was not a good day for the Coyotes, who blew a 3-1 lead to St. Louis in the first round of 1999 playoffs.
“It’s obviously disappointing; you never want to give up the lead and (want) to find ways to win at home for your fans, but give them credit, they played a good game,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “We didn’t play as well as we needed to.”
A tight and testy series has come down to a few big plays at just the right times for Phoenix.
The clog-the-lanes Coyotes bogged down the fleet Blackhawks through the first four games, giving Chicago’s skill players little room to manoeuvr while getting superb goaltending from Smith.
The Blackhawks have had trouble getting traffic in front of Smith, their best chances coming in the closing seconds of regulation, when they’ve used frenetic flurries to score.
Once the games got to overtime, the Coyotes had dominated. Mikkel Boedker had extra-period goals in the two games in Chicago to put Phoenix up 3-1.
The series also has been brutally physical, filled with big hits and numerous scrums between players.
Along with dozens of bone-rattling hits, Chicago rookie Andrew Shaw was suspended three games for upending Smith in Game 2, and Torres received the second-longest suspension in NHL history for an on-ice action with his hit on Hossa, who didn’t make the trip to Arizona.
The barbarity has hit the Coyotes the hardest.
Forwards Martin Hanzal and Lauri Korpikoski missed both games in Chicago and leading goal-scorer Radim Vrbata played just one shift in the opening game. The everyone-chips-in Coyotes haven’t flinched when players have gone out, using their depth and diversity to grind out victories.
Phoenix opened Game 5 just as it did in all the others, allowing Blackhawks plenty of scoring chances. Smith, as he has all series, wouldn’t let them in, turning away 12 shots in a first period that included consecutive power plays by Chicago late.
The Coyotes were at their counterattacking best early in the second quarter, with Smith getting the puck out quickly to pick up an assist on Brule’s breakaway goal.
The Blackhawks have been resilient all series, though, and kept clawing until Leddy scored from the right point midway through the third period on a shot Smith had trouble seeing after being clipped on the mask by Chicago centre Dave Bolland.
“They were coming hard,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “That was their season on the line for them, so you knew they were going to come hard.”
And they kept coming in overtime, getting the big play at the right time instead of the Coyotes.
Scrambling off a faceoff, Toews gathered a loose puck near the right circle and let it fly. Unlike the previous two games, when Chicago couldn’t beat Smith in overtime, Chicago’s captain managed to slip one past, sending the Blackhawks back to the Windy City with momentum blowing on their side.
NOTES: LW Viktor Stalberg was called for all four of Chicago’s penalties. … The Blackhawks are 0-10 when trailing a series 3-1. … Brule’s goal came in his fourth playoff game. … Chicago is 1-for-17 on the power play in the series after failing on four chances in Game 5.