GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 11: Goaltender Ray Emery #30 of the Chicago Blackhawks reacts after allowing a first period goal to Radim Vrbata (not pictured) of the Phoenix Coyotes during the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on February 11, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Hockey folks will tell you, the playoffs are a whole different animal. What happened in the regular season is in the past and everything that comes after the puck drops on Thursday night in Glendale will not have a lick to do with what happened back in October, or November, or December, or February. But that's no reason not to take a quick look at the four games that the Phoenix Coyotes have already played against the Chicago Blackhawks to refresh our memory about the good, the not-so-good and everything else.
So, after the jump, we'll quickly look at each game this season and see if there's something that the teams may look to focus on as they prepare for this best of seven first round series.
GAME 1: October 18 @ Phoenix: 5-2 Blackhawks victory
This wasn't a pretty game for the Coyotes, riding high off of consecutive victories including an emotional home opener against the new Winnipeg Jets. Jason LaBarbera made his second start of the year after a dominating performance in Nashville and was treated to a 35-shot blitzing by the Hawks. The game was actually pretty close even though Chicago seemed to control the play from the get go. The two crucial plays that I recall from my recap were Daymond Langkow failing to corral a Derek Morris pass on a shorthanded rush that would have tied the game in the first, and a back-breaking Dave Bolland shorthanded goal early in the third period. This is the only game in the series that did not feature Mike Smith, but that was before he became Mike Smith, deserving of a Vezina nod. In the end, when you are outshot 35-16, you lose a lot of games...the Coyotes will be well served to keep those numbers a lot closer to equal.
GAME 2: November 29 @ Chicago: 4-1 Coyotes victory
This was the return game for the Blackhawks from their extended road trip for (I believe) the circus at the United Center. The Coyotes would play a solid game and Mike Smith came within 60 seconds of recording a second consecutive shutout after blanking Dallas a few days earlier. The veterans led the way with goals coming from Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata, Daymond Langkow and Shane Doan. It was also one of those classic Phoenix games where they stifled the Hawks offensive efforts and didn't take many penalties. This game also saw the Coyotes chase Hawks goalie Corey Crawford after the 4th goal and almost score immediately on back-up Ray Emery on a Keith Yandle blast, only to have the goal waved off because of coincidental minors. I remember that pissing me off pretty fiercely at the time. Daniel Carcillo spent most of the 3rd period trying to get under the Coyotes' skin to little avail...Carcillo will not be around for this series as he recovers from a torn ACL.
GAME 3: December 5 @ Chicago: 4-3 Coyotes victory (SO)
A game that really never should have gone to a shoot out as the Coyotes jumped out to a 3-0 lead just over a minute into the second period after scoring a pair in the first. If there's anything that this game showed, though, it was just how important Chicago captain Jonathan Toews is to his team's efforts. He put the Hawks firmly on his back after the third Coyotes goals, scoring the next two goals himself before assisting on a Patrick Kane tally that tied the game before the second horn blew. It was another game that saw Crawford given the hook in favor of Emery who was terrific in relief until allowing goals to Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Vrbata in the shoot out (before Vrby lost his shootout mojo). Again, though, the Hawks showed that they are never out of a game and have a quick strike ability to put up tallies in a hurry. While the Coyotes won the skills competition, a big point in a big comeback for Chicago in this one.
GAME 4: February 12 @ Phoenix: 3-0 Coyotes victory
Ah, February in Phoenix. The temperatures were only a balmy 75 degrees, the flowers were starting to bloom, and Mike Smith and the Coyotes were an unbelievable 11-0-1 for the month. This was one of those games that was all about Mike Smith, as he stood on his head making 38 saves for his 3rd shutout of the season and the start of his first long shut out streak of the year as he would follow up this game with another shutout against the Kings in his next start before the streak ended on a fluke goal to the Stars. Radim Vrbata and Boyd Gordon scored in the first and Kyle Chipchura added a rare tally in the second period against Ray Emery as the Coyotes fought their way to their third victory over the Blackhawks for the season. The game was also Jeremy Roenick jersey retirement day.
All-in-all it's been a very exciting season series with the Blackhawks. While the Coyotes have been fortunate to take 6 of 8 points in the games, they haven't exactly been the type of lopsided victories that suggest that the Blackhawks simply are outmatched by the Coyotes. Much to the contrary, the Hawks have peppered the Coyotes with shots repeatedly and but for the differences in goaltending, these games may have gone very differently. As we will get to later this week, that might be the single biggest factor in the series - can Chicago get good enough goaltending to keep them in games and can the Hawks talented roster find ways to beat Mike Smith?
One positive note for the Coyotes is that despite Chicago's very impressive home record this year of 27-8-6, the Coyotes won both games at the United Center. Winning games on the road in the playoffs is essential and it's good to know that the Coyotes aren't going to fold like a house of cards in the Madhouse on Madison.