CHICAGO – The phrase "desperation hockey" is starting to become a nightly utterance around the Western Conference and there are still around 20 games left before the Stanley Cup playoffs start.
Sunday night was no exception in front of 21,473 at the United Center. After three periods of exciting hockey plus overtime, it took the Chicago Blackhawks a shootout to beat the Phoenix Coyotes 4-3 and notch two big points in the conference standings.
How tight are things in the West?
After logging their fourth straight win and getting points in eight of the last nine games, the Blackhawks (33-23-6) are still on the outside of the playoff picture. They start Monday sitting in ninth with 72 points, which is just two points behind the fifth-place Los Angeles Kings and one spot ahead of the Nashville Predators – who also have 72.
"We just all understand the situation and we're battling more," said Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, who finished with an assist and a plus-1 rating in 30:33 against the fourth-place Coyotes (33-22-9). "We need those points and it shows in how we're playing. I still think there's more there and another level we can get to, but the games go by here and we've tried to get points out of games – and we've been doing that. We've got to keep doing that."
A fast start, two goals by Hawks captain Jonathan Toews plus a second-straight shootout shutout by rookie goalie Corey Crawford were the recipe for Sunday's win.
Toews also scored the lone goal of the shootout – beating Ilya Bryzgalov through the five-hole on the first attempt. Ilya Bryzgalov then stopped Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on Chicago's next two attempts, while Crawford stopped Scottie Upshall, Radim Vrbata and Kyle Turris all to the right side of the net to end it.
The Coyotes beat Crawford in a shootout on Feb. 12 in Phoenix, so turning the tables felt good.
"The more shootouts I see, the better I feel," Crawford said. "And after losing to these guys last time in a shootout, it was a little payback. We work on (shootouts) in practice pretty often, so it helped tonight. It's always fun in this building, because the crowd is so loud and they give you that little extra."
Along with the two markers by Toews, Marian Hossa scored to lead Chicago offensively, while Kane added a pair of assists. Phoenix got goals from Keith Yandle, Martin Hanzal and Adrian Aucoin – who came off the injured reserve list earlier in the day.
The Coyotes had gone two straight games without getting a point, so just getting into overtime and earning a point was a nice consolation.
"It was huge for us to get at least one point, and give ourselves an opportunity to get two in the shootout," said Yandle, who scored for the first time since Feb. 1. "They've got a pretty high-skill team, and they're tough to beat in the shootout. Just for us to get one point out of that game, being down, it's a big moral victory for us."
Toews gave Chicago a 2-0 lead after the first period by potting his 21st and 22nd goals.
His first came just 2:52 into the game, after he fired a puck on goal from just inside the right circle near the boards. It trickled past Bryzgalov for a 1-0 lead and got the Hawks off to a good start.
Then, just a couple hours after Brent Seabrook's new five-year contract was announced, he made the Hawks look good by picking up his 34th point on Toews' second marker with just 3:05 left in the first. That made it 2-0 and happened during a 5-on-3 Chicago power play. Kane found Seabrook with a pass to the top of the right circle, where he ripped a one-timer through traffic that Toews deflected under Bryzgalov's trapper.
Phoenix then scored all of its goals in the second. Aucoin, whose tripping penalty created the Hawks' 5-on-3, made up for it at 2:13 of the second with his third goal of the season – which made it 2-1 Chicago.
He fired a slap shot from the high slot near the blue line that Crawford didn't see until too late – zipping past three Chicago defenders and hitting the back of the net. The lift didn't last long. Hossa scored his 15th goal to make it 3-1 during another Hawks power play just 6:01 later – flicking a rebound over Bryzgalov's shoulder from the low slot.
Chicago went 2-for-3 on the power play, but the Hawks penalty kill left a lot to be desired. The Hawks' penalty kill unit was ranked 26th before the game and was on the ice for the game's next two goals – scored by Yandle to make it 3-2 at 11:11 of the second and Hanzal’s 15th to tie it 3-3 with 2:59 left.
Yandle's goal also came off a long slap shot that sailed through traffic, while Hanzal beat Crawford to a rebound in the crease and slid the puck home. Phoenix went 2-for-4 on power plays, which left Chicago coach Joel Quenneville wanting more out of his penalty killers.
"It was a point shot," Quenneville said of Yandle's goal. "We didn’t need to be in the lane. I think the goalie could have seen the puck, and they had a quick stick on the third goal – which can happen, but we've got to give (Crawford) some help in those areas."
It went to the third knotted 3-3, which is a scenario Chicago's faced twice as much as the Coyotes. Coming into the game, the Hawks were 6-10-1 in 17 games tied after two periods while Phoenix was 2-2-4. Both teams had good scoring chances in the third, but both goalies refused to break.
"We've had a lot of similar games," Toews said. "We knew we didn’t play our best hockey in the second, but we knew it just came down to the last 20 (minutes) and finding a way to win. Whether it's in the third, overtime or the shootout, we're always confident we have enough to win those games."
They're going to need that confidence in the upcoming stretch. Chicago faces the Minnesota Wild on Monday, hosts the Calgary Flames on Wednesday and then hosts the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday.
That's followed by a four-game road trip against Eastern Conference teams.
"We're not really worried about a run or a streak right now," Toews said. "We've got a long week ahead of us, so we're not looking too far ahead."
1 - 0 CHI
2 - 0 CHI
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