By Jon Fromi
It was the same story for the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center in Game 4 of their Western Conference quarterfinal with the visiting Phoenix Coyotes. The Hawks rallied back late, this time from a late two-goal deficit to send a fourth consecutive game into overtime. However, it was the Coyotes who once again found a way to pull out the game, prevailing 3-2. Phoenix now holds a commanding 3-1 lead in the series with a home game coming up Saturday.
As has been the case in this series, the Hawks were active early. Dave Bolland’s line had a nice shift in the second minute. Bolland got a puck on the doorstep thanks to a failed shot attempt by Bryan Bickell, but Mike Smith came up with a save. Shane Doan interfered with Patrick Kane at the 2:12 mark of the first, but couldn’t take advantage.
Five minutes in, some unfinished business was handled when Paul Bissonette and Brandon Bollig dropped the gloves off of a center ice draw. Bissonette seemed to get the better of the fight, though Bollig drew blood from the corner of the Coyote forward’s eye. The Hawks came out ahead, though, as Bissonette was given a game misconduct for not having his fight strap fastened.
Chicago outshot their opponents 11-5 and had most of the early opportunities. Chances were few for Phoenix, but the Coyotes had a huge chance turned away in the fourteenth minute. Michal Rozsival sent a shot on goal that rebounded off of Corey Crawford. Daymond Langkow was looking at an open net but Niklas Hjalmarsson’s active stick saved the goal.
The closest anyone came to drawing twine was with 3:12 to play in the first, when Keith Yandle’s slap shot off of a faceoff win was redirected past Crawford. The puck slammed into the inside of the right post and ricocheted across the goal mouth.
Crawford turned away a streaking Ray Whitney early in the middle frame after Radim Vrbata got control of a loose puck at the Chicago blue line. Six minutes later, Michael Frolik blocked a Yandle shot and won a race to the puck.
Frolik came across the crease to backhanded an attempt that was stopped by Smith. A rebound found its way across the line, but the officials had lost sight of the puck and the play was whistled dead.
Phoenix killed off a hooking penalty by Adrian Aucoin near the midway point. The Hawks continued to outshoot the Coyotes throughout the period but could not solve the Phoenix goalie despite terrific chances by Bickell and Marcus Kruger.
The Coyotes gained a man advantage when Hjalmarsson tripped Mikkel Boedker as he stole the puck and bore down on goal. The Hawks spent the last two minutes of the period on a successful penalty kill. Through forty minutes, there was still no score.
Phoenix started the third period with a strong shift and a couple of shots that Crawford kept out of the net. The teams then settled into a staring contest, with each team waiting for an opening. At the 7:03 mark, the Hawks defense blinked.
Johnny Oduya was bringing the puck out of his own zone but never made it. Doan stripped him of the puck and doubled back toward the net. Whitney took the resulting feed and fired away. Crawford stopped the initial shot, but Doan was right there to bang home his first goal of the series to give Phoenix a 1-0 lead.
Less than a minute later, three Hawks failed to clear the puck, which Vrbata sent to Antoine Vermette behind the goal line. Vermette found Taylor Pyatt for a 2-0 Phoenix advantage that put them firmly in the driver’s seat with just over 12 minutes remaining.
The Hawks got back in the game off of a shift change midway through the third. Jonathan Toews hit Brendan Morrison, playing in his first game of the series, with a pass across the blue line. The midseason addition fired away from the right faceoff circle, hitting Rostislav Kleskla’s stick and going into the net over Smith’s glove, cutting the lead in half with 9:35 left to play.
The Hawks pulled out the stops, putting Patrick Sharp with Kane and Toews. An opportunity presented itself when Pyatt was called for interfering with Nick Leddy with 7:23 to go. Once again, Chicago came away empty.
Chicago killed a trip by Sharp and faced yet another desperate bid to tie the game in the final three minutes. The Bolland line made a furious charge in the 19th minute with Smith making several spectacular saves.
Frolik was turned away. The puck skidded across the paint but Bickell couldn’t get a stick on it. Chicago regained control and Bolland got the puck on goal. Smith stopped the shot but Frolik was there to poke the puck into the open net with 1:26 remaining. For the fourth time in as many games, the action would not be limited to 60 minutes.
The Hawks had a mass of red in front of the Phoenix net two minutes into the overtime, but Smith refused to allow the game-winner. The Coyotes cleared their zone, then ended the contest seconds later. Nick Leddy lunged for a loose puck and came up empty, allowing Boedker to enter the Hawks zone with a step on the defense.
Leddy back checked, but the puck slid lazily through Crawford’s five hole to give Boedker his second straight winning goal on Chicago ice.
-Boo all you want, Hawks fans. Mike Smith is winning this series for the Coyotes right now. All Phoenix has had to do is sit back and wait for the inevitable defensive slip up (provided tonight by Oduya and Leddy). Crawford has been good, which would be enough if Smith wasn’t outplaying him every night.
-Brendan Morrison was inserted in a surprise late-lineup change, taking the place of Jamal Mayers who was a healthy scratch. Sean O’Donnell took Dylan Olsen’s spot from Game 3.
-You have to question how much the Hawks have left from an emotional standpoint after dropping three games in overtime, the last two at home. The momentum was all on Chicago’s side heading into extra time. Phoenix was the team skating down a forward. The Coyotes were outshot 32-19, yet won for the third time in four games.
-Toews did have the assist on Morrison’s goal. However, Toews, Kane and Sharp managed just six shots combined. Those are three of the players who were supposed to be the difference in this series.
-Frolik had another good game in his second game back in action from being a healthy scratch for most of the last month. The secondary scoring has more than been there. Bolland’s line accounted for 11 shots on goal.
-Once again, the power play had a chance to be the difference tonight and posted a doughnut hole in three attempts.
-The Hawks will attempt to bring the action back to the United Center Saturday night when they travel to Phoenix for Game 5.