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Between the Dots: Blackhawks-Coyotes rivalry builds quickly

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

It’s as though there has been a full moon shining over all Stanley Cup Playoffs series, but what’s transpired during the taffy pull between the Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes is truly way out there. Most teams build up mutual disaffection over a period of years or decades. These two franchises had no postseason history whatsoever until last Thursday, but within less than a week, they’ve learned how to hate each other in a hurry.

Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals at the United Center Tuesday night ended on a puck Corey Crawford says he saw, but just missed. Meanwhile, four officials whose efforts losing coach Joel Quenneville termed “a disgrace” missed what they somehow never saw—a violent Coyote ugly maneuver by Raffi Torres that flattened Marian Hossa, who was wheeled off the ice on a stretcher.

Dr. Michael Terry, the Blackhawks’ chief physician, issued a statement saying hospital results were encouraging to such an extent that Hossa had been released and sent home even before Mikkel Boedker tallied 13:15 into sudden death to bring the visitors a grumpy 3-2 triumph and a 2-1 lead in the series. Boedker flung a wishful shot only inches from the extended goal line left and it escaped Crawford, whose excellent work until then had been obscured by all the other strange happenings in Phoenix and now here.

Tuesday’s night’s crowd, clearly amped, hooted every gesture by Mike Smith, the Phoenix netminder who was the designated villain in Andrew Shaw’s three-game suspension, announced earlier in the day. Roberto Luongo never got it worse in the United Center. But what occurred at 11:51 of the first period—with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in the building—will mean more hearings at league headquarters. Away from the puck, Torres left his feet and went shoulder to Hossa’s head in center ice, not far from the Blackhawks’ bench. It appeared to be the very essence of what the NHL seeks to eliminate, yet the only penalty on the sequence was Brandon Bollig’s attempt at some sort of retaliation.

“Frustrating when you lose a player like that and nothing comes of it,” said captain Jonathan Toews, who added, when asked about possible punishment for Torres,  “I don’t know what to expect anymore.”

Torres needs no introduction to the Blackhawks or their fans. In Game 3 of the quarterfinals last season while with the Canucks, he ran Brent Seabrook, who missed a couple games before he could clear his head. The Chicago side now might argue that you can take the player out of Vancouver, but not the Vancouver out of the player.

Torres said he was merely attempting to finish his check, and he wound up injuring a Slovak. Quenneville was irate on the home bench and the sight was frightening. Later in the session, angry fans accorded an icing call on Phoenix a standing ovation--such was the fury directed toward the officials. On the faceoff, the mood improved, however, because Marcus Kruger won the draw, got it to Nick Leddy, who fed Patrick Kane, who drilled a shot that was tipped home by Andrew Brunette.

The Blackhawks retained their 1-0 advantage until the third when, suddenly, a scoring frenzy evolved: three in 65 seconds, two by the Coyotes, one by Michael Frolik, inserted into the lineup vacancy upon Shaw’s absence. The 2-2 proposition persisted, and thus the teams engaged in their third overtime in as many starts this series. Crawford has been excellent throughout, and involved. At the second intermission, he went mask to mask with Smith en route to the locker room, and it is unlikely they were discussing paint jobs.

The fourth scrum will be Thursday night at the United Center, but before then, there could be adjustments to the Phoenix roster, via mission control in New York.

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