One week ago, the Phoenix Coyotes were 13 points behind Chicago and a lap behind all the playoff teams in the Western Conference.
How fast can things change in the NHL? These two teams surely know.
On a night when Jeremy Roenick became a member of their Ring of Honor, the Coyotes paid tribute to "JR" themselves with an effort to make old No. 97 proud – featuring goals, fights and plenty of crowd-pleasing plays to delight a full barn during a 3-0 win at Jobing.com Arena against the team that gave Roenick his start.
Energy player Kyle Chipchura started things with a long fight less than two minutes into play and capped the scoring with a rare goal as the Coyotes ran their season-long winning streak to five games before a standing-room-only crowd of 17,353 who roared for Roenick and stayed for the real party.
"We knew we were going to play a desperate team that was going to come out hard and come after us," said Chipchura, who has just two goals in his last 84 NHL games. "But our team responded well. We matched that energy and we had the jump on them."
But the real star for Phoenix – again – was goalie Mike Smith, who continued a week of stellar play with 38 saves and his third shutout of the season. Smith has allowed only six goals during the five-game win streak and just three in the last four – and he truly earned his 14th career shutout by frustrating Chicago's offensive stars again and again.
"When you're playing a team like Chicago, who can score so quick and turn a game around, you just focus on making the next save," Smith said. "Our 'D' has been great for the last week or two and they were letting me see shots and doing a fantastic job."
Radim Vrbata and Boyd Gordon also scored and Gilbert Brule had two assists for Phoenix, which has gone from 12th place in the Western Conference to eighth and now sit just three points behind sixth-place Chicago. Phoenix's five-game winning streak is its longest since Mar. 10-18 of last year.
The Blackhawks, who lost in San Jose on Friday, are now 0-7-1 in their last eight games -- their longest winless streak since the 2007-08 season, when they went 0-6-2 – and 0-8-2 in their last 10 road games. They haven't won since beating Florida 3-1 on Jan. 20, picking up just one point (at Vancouver on Jan. 31) since.
Chicago is 0-5-1 on a nine-game road trip continues Tuesday in Nashville. Coach Joel Quenneville has pushed a lot of buttons – swapping lines, changing practices and holding meetings – but the freefall continues. On Jan. 21, the Hawks led the entire NHL with 64 points.
"As we've gone through this stretch here, we've had a lot of meetings and at the end of the day, sometimes we just want results," Quenneville said. "The games we've lost lately were just really tough losses … critical times where we're not doing the right things. But tonight, we hurt ourselves right off the bat. I don't think we’ve had to deal with this before in this stretch where we haven't won."
Patrick Sharp had seven of Chicago's 38 shots but, like all his teammates, came up empty. Chicago was 0-for-3 on the power play and is now 0-for-16 on the road trip.
"It's really frustrating right now," he said. "No one is going to feel sorry for us in this League. No one is going to make it easy on us. Our next win is going to be something we're going to work hard for right from the start of the game."
Charged by the electric atmosphere following Roenick's speech and induction ceremony – and when Chipchura and Andrew Shaw went for an extended dance just 1:34 into play – the Coyotes had nine scoring chances in the first period and swarmed the Chicago net for the first six minutes.
At 3:14, Vrbata carried a puck around the Chicago net and banked a shot off former Coyote Sami Lepisto and into the open net for his 26th goal of the season, one behind Jonathan Toews for the most in the Western Conference this season. Ray Whitney assisted to extend his scoring streak to eight games, tying San Jose's Logan Couture for the longest active streak in the NHL.
Phoenix kept the pressure on Chicago goalie Ray Emery quickly doubled the lead when Lauri Korpikoski found Brule at the left circle. Brule fanned on the shot but it trickled right to Gordon at the right post and Gordon stuffed in his seventh goal at 5:58.
"Everyone was so jacked up after seeing Styles (Roenick) honored and then Chipper starting the game off with a fight really got us going," defenseman Keith Yandle said. "We're playing well, the house was pack and we kept winning. You remember nights like this."
The Blackhawks tried to rally, but Smith made a series of strong saves on Patrick Kane and Brendan Morrison and to close the first period and was even better early in the second. He denied Marian Hossa and Toews on back-to-back tries and even stopped a Sharp blast from the slot with his mask a few minutes later.
"You're just glad it hit you somewhere," Smith said.
Phoenix's third line then seized complete control of the game. Raffi Torres took the puck away from Chicago's Dylan Olsen and fed Brule at the Chicago blue line. Brule found Chipchura chugging toward the crease and he dumped the puck over Emery's pads at 12:59 for just his second goal in his last 84 NHL games to give Phoenix a 3-0 lead.
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