CHICAGO – It was almost a storybook night for Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, but the Phoenix Coyotes rallied to provide a twist ending.
When the dust cleared, the Coyotes left the Windy City on Monday night with their second win at the United Center in a week as they edged the Hawks 4-3 in a shootout -- despite an impressive Chicago comeback spearheaded by Toews.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Radim Vrbata each scored for Phoenix in the shootout against Hawks goalie Ray Emery, who relieved starter Corey Crawford early in the second period. Emery hadn't participated in the extra frames since Nov. 7, 2009, when he was a Philadelphia Flyer, and stayed true to form Monday.
At the other end, Coyotes goalie Mike Smith (32 saves) stoned Toews and Marian Hossa to win it. Raffi Torres, Vrbata and Keith Yandle all scored regulation goals for Phoenix (14-9-3), which also ended a two-game losing streak despite coughing up a 3-0 lead they established just 1:09 into the second on Yandle's third goal of the season.
"They started coming a little harder and we just weren't able to adjust to them until the third period," said Yandle, whose team saw that lead evaporate before the second intermission. "We kind of just stood around and watched them while they did their thing. With a team as good as them, you can't do that. Everybody knew here in the locker room that it wasn't a good period and everybody was anxious to get out there for the third and have a better 20 minutes to get the points."
The 'Yotes found a way to play the hard-charging Hawks to a stalemate in the third, but also got a fortunate break late in the period. Hossa took a pass in the low slot with Smith out of the goal but appeared to miss the net from close range with just Yandle in the way.
Despite controlling most of the action down the stretch, Chicago wasn't able to take the lead before time ran out in regulation. Still, what Toews did in the second to bring the Hawks back was impressive. He scored two of their three goals in that period – his League-leading 16th and 17th of the season – and then set up Patrick Kane's game-tying goal with 6:03 left before the intermission.
It was his third straight multi-point game, third straight game with at least one goal and he's now scored seven points (four goals) in the last three contests.
"We played the way we had to and found a way to get back after a slow start," Toews said. "Some games lately … we go down two or three goals in the first or second period. It seems like it's become a funk we can't get out of … but for the second half of the game we dictated most of the play. We played better late in the game, but you get to that point where it's 3-3 (and) we're getting chances late in the third and OT. … We want to find a way to get that extra point."
The Hawks didn't, but Toews again showed why he's one of the League's brightest young stars.
"The guy is an awesome player," Yandle said. "He's a guy who, every time he touches the puck it looks like he's going to make something happen. Obviously playing with Kane and whoever else is playing with them, it's tough to play against them."
In the last game against St. Louis, Chicago moved Daniel Carcillo to the top line with Toews and Kane in a heated, physical game. This time, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville moved the speedy Viktor Stalberg back to the left side of Toews on that line – in place of Carcillo – and the trio clicked after Yandle's goal.
It also helped that Emery played great in relief of Crawford and Chicago's defense tightened up. While Emery (11 saves) and the Hawks defense held off the Coyotes, Toews led the charge back to tie it. The Hawks dominated the rest of that period outshot the Coyotes 14-6 while keeping intense pressure on Smith until the horn sounded.
The Coyotes, however, eventually improved their record to 12-1-3 when scoring first. Just like Phoenix's visit to Chicago a week ago, the Coyotes jumped out to an early lead.
At 2:35 of the first, a turnover at the Phoenix blue line led to a 2-on-1 that resulted Torres' goal off a cross-ice feed from Mikkel Boedker. Vrbata made it 2-0 with 1:47 left in the first on his 13th goal – and 12th in the past 17 games – picking up a rebound near the left side of the net and tucking the puck past Crawford's right pad.
Yandle's shot from above the left circle came next to start the second, but just 1:31 later Toews cut it to 3-1 on a wrist shot from the lower right circle. Toews' second marker, at 9:27 of the second, made it 3-2 after he deflected a point shot by Duncan Keith into the net.
Fittingly, Toews played a major role tying it up just 4:30 later. After Stalberg stole the puck in the defensive zone, he shot it down the ice past Toews into the Phoenix zone. Toews chased it down and zipped a perfectly-placed pass through the crease to Kane – who'd drifted to the other side of the net. Kane lifted a one-timer into the top right corner and the game was knotted up 3-3.
It was a play that showcased the skill level of both Toews and Kane – who was recently moved back to the top line with Toews after starting the season centering the second line. It just wasn't enough to knock the Coyotes completely out.
"Fortunately we hung in there and got the points," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "Other than a couple hiccups, we were fairly solid in the third. We weren't giving up the same chances as we were in the second. Any way you look at it, to come in here twice in a week and get four points out of here, we'll take those and move on."