Posted On Saturday, 04.21.2012 / 5:51 PM

By Jerry Brown - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Coyotes hope to avoid slow start, being shorthanded

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The Coyotes have a 3-1 lead in their playoff series with the Blackhawks despite giving up the first goal in three of the four games and losing a forward for the rest of the game three times.

Radim Vrbata was lost on his first shift in Game 1. Martin Hanzal went down early in Game 2. And in Game 4, Paul Bissonnette received a game misconduct for not tying down his jersey – which was pulled off in a fight with Chicago’s Brandon Bollig.
“It would help if we don’t lose a player in the first period every night,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. “When you are losing key players, it’s hard to get a rhythm and you are shuffling lines and it changes things. Keeping out whole team on the ice for the period would be a step in the right direction. In the last game (Marc-Andre) Pouliot and (Gilbert) Brule don’t get a lot of time early because they lose their linemate (Bissonnette) and we have to find some rhythm earlier.”
Tippett can laugh about the misconduct now.

"My original thought was ‘There is no way he doesn’t have it tied down, so it must have ripped, right?’" Tippett said. "But that wasn’t the case, so we’ll just leave it at that. It’s been addressed."
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Posted On Saturday, 04.21.2012 / 5:32 PM

By Jerry Brown - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Boo birds don't bother Coyotes' Smith

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – For two games in Chicago, Phoenix goalie Mike Smith was booed every time he touched the puck from Blackhawk fans who blamed him for Andrew Shaw’s three-game suspension after their collision last weekend in Glendale.
But if it was intended to get in his head, it didn’t work. Smith allowed just four goals in the two games, which the Coyotes won in overtime on a pair of Mikkel Boedker goals.
“I loved it,” Smith said. “They are passionate fans in Chicago and I wouldn’t expect anything less. If I wasn’t playing hockey I’d be doing the same thing – yelling a screaming at someone. It’s a fun atmosphere but I’m glad to be home.”

If the move was intended to intimidate a goalie that had only one career playoff start in his career before this series, “That was a swing and a miss. It helped me get right into the game,” he said.
Smith said he’s not expecting the fans to get on any of the Blackhawks.
“Just cheer for us,” he said. “I’m expecting a loud building. Our crowds in the playoffs have been unreal. We’re looking forward to it.”
Smith is 10-1-1 in his last 11 starts and has allowed two goals or less in eight of his last nine starts.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.21.2012 / 4:57 PM

By Jerry Brown - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Korpikoski could return for Coyotes

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Coyotes winger Lauri Korpikoski took part in the morning skate Saturday and Phoenix coach said Dave Tippett will be a game-time decision for Game 5 against Chicago.
Center Martin Hanzal was on the ice but did not take part in the team skate. Tippett said he was doubtful to play in Game 5 after his injuries were re-evaluated on Friday. The Coyotes will also be without Raffi Torres who was slapped with a 25-game suspension by the league Saturday.
Korpikoski left Game 2 last Saturday with an apparent lower-body injury in the third period sustained in a collision with Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith. He did not play in Games 3 and 4 and did not return to the ice until Friday, when the team returned from Chicago.
“It was a good skate. I feel good so we’ll see,” Korpikoski said. “It’s been so painful to watch … I can’t do it. I just want to be out there. The toughest thing to do is watch and not be able to help. Chicago is a fun city but it was a good road trip for me. It took a year off my life.”
Mikkel Boedker, who took Korpikoski’s spot on the line with Taylor Pyatt and Boyd Gordon, had the winning goal in overtime in each of the last two games – leaving Tippett to joke that Korpikoski might have lost his spot.
“Tipp’s kind of playing some mind games with me,” Korpikoski said. “(Boedker’s) doing a good job. He scored some big goals.”
If Korpikoski plays, he would replace either Marc-Antoine Pouilot or Paul Bissonnette in the Phoenix lineup.
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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 5:08 PM

By Jerry Brown - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Smith among players missing from Coyotes practice

Before the Coyotes and Blackhawks started their playoff series on Thursday, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett announced that his entire roster was healthy and ready to go for Game 1.

Four days and two games later, that picture had changed dramatically.

Goalie Mike Smith, center Martin Hanzal and left wing Lauri Korpikoski were all injured in Saturday's 4-3 overtime loss in Game 2 and all three did not practice with the team on Monday at the Ice Den in Scottsdale. Tippett wasn't interested in talking about their status for Tuesday night when the series resumes with Game 3 in Chicago.

"Our health is just fine. We have everyone under evaluation and that's where we're at. That's not a concern to us," Tippett said. When asked specifically about Smith, he said, "We're not talking about injuries. He's fine."

Smith was hit in the head by Chicago's Andrew Shaw in the second period of Game 2. He was attended to on the ice for several minutes but was able to stay in and finish the game. Shaw was given a major penalty for charging and a game misconduct, and will learn today at a hearing if he faces further discipline from NHL Director of Player Safety Brendan Shannahan.

If Smith can't play, the Coyotes will turn to backup Jason LaBarbera -- who played in only 19 games this season (3-9-3) and allowed five goals on 35 shots in a 5-2 loss to Chicago on Oct. 18 in Glendale. LaBarbera's last regular season win can Dec. 21 at Carolina -- he is 0-6-3 since.

Hanzal, who had the overtime game-winner for Phoenix in Game 1 on Saturday, appeared to suffer a lower-body injury in the first period of Game 2 and left the arena for further evaluation and treatment while the game continued. Hanzal plays between leading scorers Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata on Phoenix's top line and is also a big part of the power play and penalty-kill units as well as checking opposing top lines.

Before Game 2, Phoenix captain Shane Doan called Hanzal "probably our most valuable forward." If Hanzal can't play, Antoine Vermette, who leads all scorers in the series with three goals and had a pair in Game 2, would center the top line with veterans Boyd Gordon and Daymond Langkow seeing increased ice time and face-off duty.
Korpikoski was injured early in the third period when he was checked along the boards during a Phoenix power play. Korpikoski is also a key member of the Coyotes, seeing time in the power play and a key penalty killer who leads the team with three shorthanded goals this season.
Gilbert Brule, who was a healthy scratch in Game 2, would be the likely replacement if Korpikoski can't go.

On Monday night, the Coyotes announced that forwards Alexandre Bolduc and Marc-Antoine Pouliot were recalled from Portland of the American Hockey League, along with goaltender Justin Pogge. Portland did not qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 10:18 PM

By Jerry Brown - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Hawks, Coyotes tweak lineups

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Both the Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes tweaked their lineups for Game 2 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series Saturday.
Chicago started defenseman Sami Lepisto in place of Sean O'Donnell, who was a minus-2 in Phoenix's 3-2 overtime win on Thursday night. The Coyotes made a change in their fourth line, with Kyle Chipchura subbing for Gilbert Brule to give the Coyotes a more defensive look.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 4:33 PM

By Jerry Brown - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Blackhawks happy with PP despite results

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Chicago Blackhawks' power play has been a disappointment all year and finished 0-for-10 to end the season. The Phoenix Coyotes ranked eighth in the NHL in the penalty kill this season and ended the season on a string of 25 straight penalty kills during a five-game winning streak.
But the Blackhawks felt they had some good chances during their four power plays in a 3-2 overtime loss Thursday in Game 1 to Phoenix. And they are hoping their special teams will help them get even as this Western Conference Quarterfinals series resumes tonight.
“All year our power play wasn’t good, but [in Game 1] we spent lots of time in their zone and we had good plays.” Chicago winger Marian Hossa said. “We just need to get an ugly goal and get it going.”
Hossa needs to get going as well. He hasn’t scored a goal since Mar. 20 at Columbus, a span of nine games.
The Blackhawks had two power-play chances in the third period when they took the play to Phoenix, but came up empty while trailing 2-1. Brent Seabrook saves them with a last-gasp goal with 14.2 second left in regulation to force overtime before Martin Hanzal won it for Phoenix.
“We had some decent looks. We had some pucks at the net and some second opportunities,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “We have to find a way to get those ugly goals that we had some chances on.”
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 2:26 PM

By Jerry Brown - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Vrbata will play for Coyotes in Game 2

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Radim Vrbata, Phoenix’s leader this season with 35 goals, took part in the morning skate Saturday and will play against Chicago in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
“He’s going to play,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said.

 Vrbata was injured Thursday in the first shift of a 3-2 overtime win in Game 1 when he took a hard hit along the boards from Chicago’s Andrew Shaw. Vrbata went down hard and skated off the ice in a crouch.

But the man who was responsible for one out of every six Phoenix goals this season took part in the morning skate at Arena and is ready to go as the Coyotes seek to take a 2-0 lead in a playoff series for the first time since moving to Arizona in 1996.
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Posted On Friday, 04.13.2012 / 9:06 PM

By Jerry Brown - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Hawks have to make life tougher for Smith

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Chicago Blackhawks were aware they would be dealing with a talented and athletic goalie in Phoenix's Mike Smith during their Western Conference Quarterfinal series.

But after watching him make 43 saves and deftly handle their dump-in attempts in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Coyotes, making life tougher on Smith will be a priority for Game 2 on Saturday.

Smith turned lazy dump-ins by the Blackhawks into breakouts for his teammates. His defense kept the crease fairly clear and offered him a good look of most shots. And even on the two occasions when Smith lost his stick, Chicago was unable to get pucks to the net before he was able to regain his paddle.

"You have to be careful of giving him the puck because he's like an extra defenseman back there making plays," said forward Patrick Kane, who had seven of Chicago's 45 shots but came up empty. "We have to keep it away from him and make the defense play the puck."

That means more purposeful dump-ins - off the glass, hard-arounds that are difficult to handle of softer passes to the corners. Smith had 16 penalty minutes this season, the most of all NHL goalies by a wide margin, and can be coaxed out of position at times.

"Whether it's shots on net, second opportunities, keeping (the puck) out of his glove, putting it on the glass rims … he comes out and plays a lot of those pucks and we have to be more efficient and effective in those areas," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "We had some careless or not really a purpose behind some of our dumps. We have to make sure there is something behind it."

Making only his second career playoff start, Smith admitted to being jittery in the first period -- he gave up a soft goal to Chicago captain Jonathan Toews 4:04 into the game and was staying in his net more than normal. But as the game wore on and he settled down, Smith played the puck more and more and won his sixth straight start.

Smith has allowed only five goals in the last 237 shots he's seen, helping the Coyotes snap a five-game postseason losing streak -- all to the Detroit Red Wings -- dating back to Game 6 in 2010.

The Hawks know they can't make it easy for Smith to play the puck in Game 2.

"He's one of the top goalies in the League, and you have to keep the puck away from him," Chicago center Dave Bolland said. "We have to get bodies in front of him so he can't see that puck. It's a lot of little things that can cost you a game, but things that can help you win. I don't think we're that far away."

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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 5:20 PM

By Jerry Brown - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Blackhawks like experience of O'Donnell on blue line

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- In his 17th NHL season and closing in on his 41st birthday, Sean O'Donnell hasn't committed to this being his last NHL season.
But it could be, and Thursday he will play his 105th Stanley Cup Playoff game against one of the nine teams he's played for in his career, the Phoenix Coyotes.
O'Donnell played in 51 games this season and his role and ice time has been more muted. But a second Stanley Cup to bookend the one he raised in 2007 with Anaheim would be a great way to leave the stage. After sitting out the season finale against Detroit, he was tabbed to play alongside Niklas Hjalmarsson in Game 1.
"Unless you are an elite player, every game in this league is a tryout," said O'Donnell, who got the nod over rookie Dylan Olsen with Steve Montador still out with a concussion. "I think I've survived in this League for awhile playing a certain style. Just because it's the playoffs, I'm not going to change that. Keep it simple and do your job has worked real well."
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said it's that grit and experience -- on the road in the hostile atmosphere of the White Out in Arizona -- that led him to go with O'Donnell.

"Down the stretch he came in there and did a real nice job for us," he said. "We like his experience, we like his size and we like his thought process right off the bat."
Quenneville said he expected Montador to be on the ice as early as Thursday or perhaps this weekend, but said it was tough to say if he would be available in the series.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 4:52 PM

By Jerry Brown - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Quenneville stayed calm in season's tumultous stretch

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Winning a Stanley Cup in a big city doesn't earn you much rope as a coach.
Less than two years removed from winning the first Cup since 1961 in Chicago, an 0-8-1 slump that spanned over three weeks in January and February led to rumblings that Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville's job might be in danger. But Chicago went 15-5-4 down the stretch and rolled up 101 points to safely land a playoff spot -- taking press off Quenneville that his players felt never should have been there.
"That was tough for the players to listen to," said winger Patrick Sharp, who had eight of his 33 goals in the stretch run. "Everyone has their opinion, and they have a right to voice it, but I know in our locker room there was no one asking for that or even he wasn't thinking about that.
"He's our leader. He's a guy we look to in every situation. He's got the experience. We won a Stanley Cup with him, and then you're hearing things that he might be fired?
"If that would have happened, all of us would have been upset with ourselves because we were the ones on the ice controlling the situation."
Sharp said Quenneville's calm demeanor during the skid, while fans and media stoked the fires, was a big reason why the players didn't panic as well.
"That's the thing that impressed us during the streak," Sharp said. "He didn't waver too much from his beliefs. We changed a few things, but he wasn't stressed out. He wasn't coming in with a beard like he hadn't shaved. He was getting his sleep. He was still the same old Joel -- just being patient and knowing we'd be a better team for it."
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He scores 50 goals, they go in, they go in, and they go in. And I think, 'Why can't I do that?'

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