By Jon Fromi
Jonathan Toews made an impressive return to the lineup Thursday as the Chicago Blackhawks opened their Western Conference Quarterfinal in Phoenix, tallying a goal and assist. Despite Toews and a late surge to the tie the contest, the Hawks succumbed in overtime as the Coyotes bested Chicago 3-2.
The Coyotes tried to establish a physical tone from the opening faceoff, but it was Andrew Shaw who registered a bit hit on Radim Vrbata that sent Phoenix’s leading goal scorer to the dressing room. Shaw had an open look on a rebound on the ensuing trip down the ice, but Coyotes goalie Mike Smith turned it away.
Toews got the scoring started with his play in the fourth minute. Gaining control of the puck behind the Phoenix net, the captain attempted to center to Patrick Kane. Toews wound up gathering in the failed connection and shoveled a backhand that escaped the grasp of Smith. At the 4:04 mark, the Blackhawks led 1-0.
Chicago nearly added a second goal two minutes later when Dave Bolland wound up with the puck behind the Coyotes net. Bolland hit Bryan Bickell with a great pass right in front of the net but Smith nabbed Bickell’s shot. Ray Whitney was called for a hook with 6:34 to go, though Chicago couldn’t capitalize.
Phoenix got a golden opportunity to tie the contest going into the first intermission when Whitney swiped the puck from Johnny Oduya behind the Hawks net as time was running out in the first period. Whitney found Martin Hanzal streaking in from the right side, where he was stymied on a great save by Corey Crawford with two ticks remaining.
In the resulting scrum, Hanzal and Bickell were given roughing penalties, leading to nearly two minutes of four-on-four time to open the second period. Phoenix put the pressure on the Hawks in the Chicago zone and in the eighth minute, the fourth line go caught in their own zone for two Coyotes shift changes.
Aided in part by what appeared to be six skaters on the ice, Phoenix held the puck in Chicago’s zone for over ninety seconds. Crawford had a chance to cover a loose puck, but Niklas Hjalmarsson knocked it away and onto the stick of Daymond Langkow. Langkow quickly hit Taylor Pyatt, who tied the game with 12:22 left in the second.
The Coyotes took advantage of the momentum change and amped up the physical play. Bolland’s hooking penalty put the Hawks further back on their heels, and a delay of game by Patrick Sharp gave Phoenix a two man advantage for 30 seconds.
Chicago’s penalty kill came up huge at this point, keeping the score tied. However, the Coyotes caught Chicago on a shift change a few minutes later. Raffi Torres brought the puck across the blue line and fed Antoine Vermette for a slap shot that dented the twine with 2:33 left. Phoenix took that 2-1 lead into the second intermission.
Joel Quenneville kept his lines intact to start the third period and the Hawks got the puck on net to no avail. Crawford stopped a Whitney breakaway in the fifth minute. Two minutes later Chicago got a real chance to even the score when Kane was tripped by with Oliver Eckman-Larsson at the 6:50 mark.
Despite several chances, the Coyotes killed the penalty and sprung Eckman-Larsson for a breakaway attempt when he came out of the box. Chicago kept bringing the puck into the Phoenix zone, but Smith was up for the assault.
Shaw took a high stick from Keith Yandle with 6:30 to play to give the Hawks another big chance to tie the game. Despite Smith and Langkow each playing without sticks for parts of the power play, Phoenix refused to let a puck cross the goal line.
Quenneville called his timeout with 1:18 remaining in hopes of setting up a play in the Coyotes zone. Crawford was pulled for the extra attacker and Toews won the draw, but the Hawks were chased from the zone twice. Inside the final minute, Chicago held the puck in and made one final push to extend the game.
With less than 30 seconds to go and Chicago desperate for a goal, Kane came out from behind the net, curled around the dot and sent the puck toward Smith. The shot came in contact with Toews and bounced across the crease where Brent Seabrook was lurking. Seabrook kicked the puck to shooting position and slipped it past Smith with 14 seconds left.
The Hawks had tied the score and it was off to overtime. Next goal wins, kids.
Chicago put the pressure on early in the extra period. A rebound off of a Viktor Stalberg shot was knocked away before anyone could get there. Kane and Bolland both had shots that Smith turned away. Toews streaked in to the doorstep, but the centering pass was picked off.
Eckman-Larsson had a shot attempt blocked by Keith and another held by Crawford. The Hawks failed to clear the puck in the eighth minute but Torres was off the mark Hanzal missed the net from point-blank range.
The stalemate was broken midway in overtime after Hanzal won a draw following an icing call against the Blackhawks. Adrian Aucoin sent a shot from the point, which Hanzal redirected past Crawford at the 9:29 mark.
-Shaw skated right on the edge of control all night, but was very effective and was all over the ice. Nice first game for a player who was not even under contract until a few months ago.
-The goalies were front and center Thursday. Smith stopped 43 of Chicago’s 45 shots, while Crawford was largely responsible for putting his team in a position to pull this game out.
-Toews skated almost 25 minutes in his first game back. His goal was a bit fluky and should have been stopped by Smith, but he played very well and was in the middle of traffic often.
-Despite the return of Toews, the Hawks were beaten at the dot 33-25. Obviously losing the final draw hurt the most.
-The officials blew the call by not whistling Phoenix for too many men on the ice seconds before the Coyotes first goal. However, Chicago did have chances to clear the puck and failed both before and after the missed call.
-With Vrbata out for most of the contest, players like Pyatt and Hanzal stepped up for Phoenix. Chicago cannot lose this battle of the lower lines if Smith is going to put a premium on goals.
-Huge game from Seabrook. Just huge.
-The Coyotes were the more physical team on the ice, but Chicago was not afraid to make some big hits. Shaw and Hjalmarsson recorded bit hits and Seabrook had five recorded hits on the night.
-Game 2 is Saturday night as the Hawks attempt to come back to the United Center even for the series.