Blackhawks head home after split in Phoenix
Monday, 04.16.2012 / 5:44 PM
David Kalan - NHL.com Staff WriterCOYOTES at BLACKHAWKS
(Best-of-seven series tied 1-1)
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: After splitting the first two games of the series with a pair of overtime thrillers, the Coyotes and Blackhawks move to the United Center in Chicago for a pivotal Game 3 in their Western Conference Quarterfinals series.
: After winning their first division title in franchise history, the Coyotes had a tense moment when it appeared a victory in Game 1 was all but assured and Chicago's Brent Seabrook
managed to tie the game in the final minute. Phoenix did manage to win the game in overtime, and it all probably seemed like deja vu in Game 2 when again Chicago forced overtime with a goal in the closing seconds, but the ending was different -- and that's an issue for Pheonix. Now that Bryan Bickell
's OT-winner evened up the series, the Coyotes will have to win at least one game in the Madhouse on Madison to win the series.
While that could be a daunting task, Phoenix can at least take solace in the fact that the man who just might have been the most important one on the ice so far the series, should be a go for Game 3. Goalie Mike Smith laid on the ground for several moments after a collision behind the net with Chicago's Andrew Shaw
, but after getting back on his feet, Smith was superb, finishing the night with 46 saves in 70:36 of ice time. His quality play in net made his visible frustration all the more understandable after the Blackhawks tied Game 2, but fortunately for the Coyotes, it appears he should be ready for a shot at redemption Tuesday.
: If Chicago finds itself down a goal in the final minute Tuesday, it's unlikely the Hawks will get ruffled by the situation. The Blackhawks have managed to net a game-tying goal in both games of the series so far -- though with different eventual results each time -- and by seizing the opportunity with Bickell's winner in Game 2 Saturday, they may have seized the series' momentum as they return to the friendly confines of the United Center.
There is some uncertainty for the Hawks, who could be without Shaw depending on his disciplinary hearing with the Department of Player Safety regarding his collision with Smith, but there should be some extra confidence for the team as they return home. Chicago's strong play at home is well documented, but in the postseason it's even more pronounced, as the Blackhawks have won seven of the last eight postseason games they've played in the Windy City.
: Few players in the entire postseason, let alone this series, are hotter than the Coyotes' Antoine Vermette, who has three goals in the first two games against Chicago. ... Jonathan Toews
returned to the lineup after missing nearly two months for the Blackhawks and has been a solid presence at both ends, tallying a goal and assist in the first two games, while compiling a plus-4 rating, which leads all skaters.
: While the Blackhawks are still without Steve Montador
, who has been out since late March with concussion-like symptoms, they are otherwise healthy. Game 1 hero Martin Hanzal (lower-body injury) and Lauri Korpikoski (upper-body injury) are both questionable for Phoenix.
: The Blackhawks put together an impressive 27-8-6 record at the United Center this season, which is good news for the Hawks considering a win in Game 2 means all they have to do is hold serve at their own building to reach the second round, but that may be all they can count on. Chicago's road record was a pedestrian 18-18-5 in the regular season. By comparison, the Coyotes, who went 22-13-6 at home, were nearly as good on the road, going 20-14-7.
: Game 3 could be the biggest game the Coyotes have played in years. After all, a win in Game 3 would give home ice back to Phoenix for the duration of the series, something that would be a major boon considering Chicago's record at home. That advantage could put the Coyotes on track to winning a postseason series for the first time while playing in Phoenix. The franchise hasn't advanced past the opening round of the playoffs since defeating Calgary in the a Smythe Division semifinal in 1987, when the team was still known as the original Winnipeg Jets.