CHICAGO – This time, there were no two-goal meltdowns to give the Phoenix Coyotes new life.
The Chicago Blackhawks played like a team determined to win the No.1 seed in the Western Conference on Tuesday rather than the club that coughed up a pair of two-goal leads this past Saturday at Phoenix that translated into a stinging shootout loss.
Still down two injured defensemen -- plus goalie Cristobal Huet (flu) -- the Hawks dominated the surging Coyotes 2-0 in front of 22,077 at the United Center.
Phoenix (46-23-5) may have won the first three meetings this season, but the Hawks (46-19-7) got the last laugh by breaking the teams' points tie in the conference and ending the Coyotes' nine-game winning streak, one shy of tying a franchise record.
"They've been hot as of late and playing playoff-caliber hockey," said Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook, who returned for the first time since injuring his head on a vicious hit by Anaheim's James Wisniewski last week. "That's something that we wanted to get back to, and we did a great job of it."
It happened thanks to stingy defense led by Seabrook and impressive goaltending by Antti Niemi, who started for Huet and picked up his second shutout in the past three games. It was also Niemi's sixth shutout of the season. He stopped 28 shots, including several from point-blank range in the second and third periods to keep the Hawks' two-goal lead intact.
"Nobody gets (shutouts) too often," Niemi said. "It gives you a lot of confidence."
To provide some extra motivation and loosen up the locker room, Seabrook brought in a championship belt and gave it to Niemi after the game. With Huet out, Niemi appears to be making a bid to become the full-time starter as the regular season winds down.
He made several saves in the second period that brought the crowd to its feet, but his most impressive was in the third period with 10:26 left to play. Out of position, he dove to snare a puck shot by Taylor Pyatt out of mid-air.
"I thought it was a goalie win … (Niemi) was great," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "He made three or four (saves) that looked like empty nets, and his quickness and desperation led to some amazing saves."
Offensively, the Hawks were the aggressor from the drop of the puck. They peppered Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov with 12 shots in the first period with no goals, but still managed to set the tone early.
Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa finally broke through against the red-hot Bryzgalov in the second for all of the game's scoring. Bryzgalov came into the game with a seven-game winning streak, but the Hawks put 32 shots on goal and kept him busy all night.
Kane scored first, netting his 28th goal of the season just 1:45 into the second period. Skating in from the left circle, he placed a shot past Bryzgalov's trapper to the far side – nicking the post on its way into the net. Hossa then took a pass from Patrick Sharp and trickled one past Bryzgalov a little over six minutes later for a 2-0 lead. No more offense was necessary, as Niemi and the defense took over in the third.
Phoenix thought it had gotten on the board first in the first period when Shane Doan circled Niemi and wristed one home with 7:40 left in the period. The goal was waived off, though, after Matthew Lombardi was whistled for being in the crease. It was just the first frustrating moment in a game full of them for the Coyotes.
"You have to give Chicago credit for a great effort," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "Our turnovers caused us problems tonight, but we need to compete on the same level as the Hawks, an elite team in the League. We didn't have as good a game as we've been playing lately."
1 - 0 CHI
2 - 0 CHI
Holding the stick