GLENDALE, Ariz. – The marketing slogan for the Phoenix Coyotes this season has been "Hockey the Hard Way." Their first postseason win was a living, breathing example.
After coming within 14.2 seconds of a regulation win over Chicago, the Coyotes had to regroup and beat the hard-charging Blackhawks all over again. Center Martin Hanzal, who hadn't scored in 24 games, deflected an Adrian Aucoin shot past Chicago goalie Corey Crawford 9:29 into overtime to give the Coyotes a 3-2 win in the Western Conference Quarterfinals opener Thursday night.
After winning a faceoff following an icing call, Hanzal set up just in front of the crease and got just enough of Aucoin's right-point shot to lift the Coyotes to a rare series-opening win -- they had been 5-15 in first games of a playoff series. Phoenix, which hasn't won a series in a quarter-century, will attempt to take a 2-0 lead here on Saturday night.
"I thought Okie saw me and kind of shot for my stick and I tipped it in – it was kind of lucky," said Hanzal, who hadn't scored since Feb. 6 against Detroit. "During the intermission [before overtime], we said 'somebody's got to be the hero' and then you have that moment, you score that goal, and it was just a great feeling."
It was only the second OT goal in franchise history since the team moved from Winnipeg to Phoenix in 1996. Shane Doan scored the OT winner in Game 2 of the opening round in 1999, a series the Coyotes lost to St. Louis in seven games on an overtime goal by Pierre Turgeon. That was the last OT game in team history until Thursday.
The Coyotes lost leading scorer Radim Vrbata early in the first period when he took a hit by Chicago's Andrew Shaw and banged his head against the glass. Vrbata had a career-high 35 goals this season. Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said Vrbata's status is day-to-day. But Phoenix's secondary scorers stepped up with their top sniper out.
The Coyotes answered a Jonathan Toews goal with second-period tallies by Taylor Pyatt and Antoine Vermette and carried that 2-1 lead into the final minute before Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook capped an all-out assault on the Phoenix net by scoring the game-tying goal.
The Coyotes were 33-1 when leading after two periods during the regular season, but couldn't hold off the Blackhawks with six attackers on the ice. Smith made a great save on Seabrook with 30 seconds left, but Chicago kept coming. Patrick Kane's redirected shot pinged off the right post behind Smith and came right to Seabrook, who had half a net to shoot at and didn't miss to take the air out of a rocking, White Out-clad crowd of 17,138 at Jobing.com Arena.
But after the Hawks had the first five shots of overtime and forced Smith to be sharp in the first three minutes, the Coyotes began to control the tempo, took the final five shots and were rewarded.
"We had some momentum throughout the whole third period and it took us all of 20 minutes to get one by Smith," Seabrook said. "[In overtime] they were getting pucks to the net, they were getting bodies to the front trying get an ugly goal … and Hanzal got an ugly goal."
Smith, who allowed only two goals and made 190 saves in the Coyotes' final five regular- season games, stopped 43 of 45 shots. He now has six straight wins and is 8-0-1 in his last nine games.
Crawford finished with 31 saves for the Blackhawks.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who missed the final 22 games of the regular season after suffering a concussion, left no doubt that he was ready for duty by striking just 4:04 into play and added an assist on Seabrook's tying goal.
Playing on a line between Kane and Marian Hossa for the first time in two years, Toews corralled the puck from a sharp angle and lifted a backhander up and over the glove of Smith for his 16th career playoff goal.
"The adrenaline was pumping and I was kind of stiff-legged in the first period," Smith said. "I wasn't playing the puck much and I was kind of stuck in my net. Obviously that goal can't happen but it did and I got over it. I knew it wasn't going to be a 1-0 game."
Toews absorbed a thunderous hit from Doan behind the Phoenix net in the second period but emerged none the worse for wear, charging right back in front of the Coyotes crease to attempt a deflection of a shot. He played more than 24 minutes.
The Coyotes were credited with 22 hits in the first period but still had trouble slowing down the pace of the Blackhawks.
"I felt like [the physical play]) went both ways," Toews said. "We do what we have to do and we drew some penalties. There are some things we can take out of this game, but we didn't get the win so we're not happy with that."
The Coyotes found their forecheck in the second period and got even after a ferocious shift that pinned the Blackhawks in their zone for nearly a minute.
Defenseman Sean O'Donnell, playing without a stick, tried to hand-pass the puck toward Crawford in the crease -- but defense partner Niklas Hjalmarsson chose to push the puck toward the backboards. Daymond Langkow ran it down and backhanded the puck in front to Pyatt, who pitchforked a point-blank shot over Crawford at 7:38 for his fifth career playoff goal.
Chicago complained that the Coyotes had six players on the ice during the sequence, but those pleas went unanswered. Pyatt now has three goals in his last two games after scoring only seven in his first 72.
"We had turnover trouble there. We were standing still with the puck and we didn't advance it," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "We had long shifts in our end and we got tired a couple of times."
The Coyotes kept up the pressure and after failing on a pair of power plays, took the lead on the rush. Raffi Torres took a Keith Yandle pass in stride, faked a shot and found an onrushing Vermette coming late. Vermette pounded the puck under Crawford's glove from between the circles at 17:27 for his fifth postseason goal to give the Coyotes their first lead.
"We were better with the forecheck in the second period and did a better job of not letting them beat us with one pass," Yandle said. "That let us spend more time in their zone and when we turned the play we had some success."
The Blackhawks came hard on power play at the end of the period, but Smith stoned Toews on a rebound and gloved a Patrick Sharp bid to allow Phoenix to take a lead to the third period – one the Coyotes almost took it all the way to the final horn.