For many hockey fans, this matchup has been circled on the calendar since the schedule was announced last month. Raffi Torres will square off against Marian Hossa and the Chicago Blackhawks for the first time since Torres' incapacitating hit in Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. What does the script look like for this matchup?
The Phoenix Coyotes that everyone remembers from last season finally decided to make a reappearance this season; they've won their previous two games 2-0 and 2-1 respectively. Defensively they look much sharper, and Mike Smith appears to be playing injury free and on his way back to his 2011-12 self.
The Coyotes are going to need to be sharp against a team like Chicago. The Blackhawks are the only team remaining in the NHL that has yet to lose a game in regulation. Their offense has been clicking and Corey Crawford has looked very good in net.
Last time these two teams met, the Coyotes were raising their first ever Division Championship banner to the rafters of Jobing.com Arena. Chicago didn't seem to care much, as they lit up Mike Smith and caused headache after headache for the Coyotes in a 6-4 win that looks much closer than it really was. The Coyotes will be out for some payback too.
Five For Winning
Control the Emotions. Everybody knows there will be some tension on the ice for this one, including the officials and the league office. The last thing the Coyotes want to do is give in to some of the bad blood and do something stupid to earn a Shanaban. If the Blackhawks want to take liberties on Raffi Torres, let them take the fall for it.
Tighten Up Defensively. Luckily for Phoenix fans the defense has started to look like its old self again. That will be extremely important when playing guys like Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews. Avoid making costly mistakes (I'm looking at you, Yandle) and force the Blackhawks to earn every single scoring chance they get.
Manage the Flow. The Coyotes need to avoid making this game a track meet. In their first meeting this season, Chicago did an excellent job of moving up the ice and making the Coyotes chase pucks and players. Phoenix needs to clog the neutral zone so the Blackhawks skill players don't have easy access to good shooting lanes.
Keep Doing What You're Doing, Special Teams. Somehow, both aspects of the Coyotes special teams have remained respectable at the 1st quarter mark of the season. If the Coyotes can grab a goal on the power play and keep the Blackhawks off the ledger while shorthanded, that's a two-goal swing that will definitely help.
Get Points. Chicago has not ended a game without snagging at least one point. They're an excellent team that is playing extremely well. Phoenix has been playing well too, which means losing in regulation is not good enough.
Players to Watch
The play of Marian Hossa this year is undoubtedly making Blackhawks fans wonder what could have been last season if Hossa hadn't been injured. He has 10 points on the year (6G, 4A) and doesn't appear to have lost a stride since last season.
#37 / Phoenix Coyotes
Oct 08, 1981
Could it really be anyone else? Seriously though, Torres' physical presence on the ice is a great matchup with a team that prefers skill like Chicago. Phoenix will need him on the ice and not in the box though.
Projected Starting Goalies
Crawford has been nothing short of spectacular this year. He's 6-0-2 with a 1.82 GAA and a .930 SV%. Of course, the issue with Crawford has never been the regular season, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against the team that eliminated him from the playoffs last year.
UPDATE: Per Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago, Ray Emery will once again be in net for Chicago tonight. He started the first game between these two teams.
Mike Smith has conceded only one goal in his last 120 minutes of play. He looks to be getting back into form and will have to be playoff vintage against a very talented Blackhawks offense.
For the Blackhawks, former Coyote Michal Rozsival is the only one to note as questionable.
Phoenix will continue without Matthew Lombardi, and David Schlemko is likely done for the season after suffering an apparent shoulder injury against the Wild. The good news for the Phoenix blue-line is that Rostislav Klesla may return to the lineup, and Chris Summers has joined the Coyotes on D.