It's no surprise that two of the Phoenix Coyotes' best offensive games in the first round were in Games 1 and 6. Those were the two games the Coyotes had top-line center Martin Hanzal healthy from beginning to end.
Chicago Blackhawks by using his two biggest strengths in Game 1. With 10:37 left in overtime, Hanzal beat the Hawks' Marcus Krueger on a faceoff to the right of the Chicago goal. He won the puck back to Rostislav Klesla, who shot wide, but the rebound went to Adrian Aucoin, who fired a shot from the right point. Hanzal parked his 6-foot-6, 236-pound body in the low slot and deflected the shot past Corey Crawford the winning goal.
But in Game 2, he left after just three shifts with a lower-body injury that kept him out for Games 3, 4 and 5. He returned in Game 6, and while he didn't get on the scoresheet, he kept Crawford from seeing Oliver Ekman-Larsson's shot for the game's first goal en route to a 4-0 series-clinching win.
Coyotes captain Shane Doan described Hanzal best by saying, "he's our most complete forward."
Considered an offensive-minded player coming out of junior hockey, the 17th pick in the 2005 NHL Draft has played more of a checking role in recent seasons. He had just six goals in 64 regular-season games, but also centers the Coyotes' top line, flanked by the team's top two scorers, Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata.
When he returned in Game 6, he went right back into that spot.
"It was nice when I came back after missing three games and started playing with Vrby [Vrbata] and [we] clicked right away," Hanzal said. "It was a good feeling. I think I can still be better and make them score a little bit more."
The Coyotes need something extra from Vrbata and Whitney, who were non-factors offensively in the first round. Whitney had a goal and two assists, while Vrbata had just one assist. The Coyotes' leading goal-scorer with 35 this season, Vrbata missed most of Game 1 with an upper-body injury he sustained on his second shift, but he also missed playing with his fellow Czech Republic native for the majority of the series.
"I think the main key will be to just be healthy and be together because I don't think we've played too many games together," Vrbata said. "In the first game I left the first shift, second game I came back and Marty left maybe third shift and then we got back together for Game 6. So staying healthy and staying together, that would be the key."
With his big body and soft hands, Hanzal can create space and traffic for Vrbata and Whitney. Against a Predators team with giant goalie Pekka Rinne, it wouldn't be surprising to see his skill set make a major difference in the series.
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