With the Pacific Division title firmly in hand, the Coyotes re-assembled at Jobing.com Arena on Monday to start preparations for their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series vs. Chicago.
Only a handful of players skated while the rest did off-ice workouts and interviews. All players are expected on the ice Tuesday with Game 1 looming on Thursday at Jobing.com Arena.
The Coyotes secured home-ice advantage in the series by winning the first division title in franchise history on Saturday with a 4-1 win at Minnesota.
That historic feat was a hot topic on Monday, but forward Raffi Torres
, who has reached the Stanley Cup Final with two other teams, suggests he and his teammates quickly put the division title hoopla to bed.
“I think the sooner we can forget about it the better it is for us,” Torres said. “It’s just something that happened. We played well but it's done with. There’s a lot more work to come to reach the ultimate goal.”
The Coyotes have won five games in a row and outscored opponents 16-2 in those games.
|Mike Smith answers questions on Monday. Photo by Norm Hall. |
Goalie Mike Smith
, who on Monday was named the NHL’s No. 1 Star of the Week, has been the key contributor.
Asked if he is ready for the pressure that accompanies the playoffs, Smith, who has just three Stanley Cup Playoffs games on his resume, said yes.
“I’m not going to change what I’ve done so far because it’s playoffs,” Smith said. “I think I’ve approached every game the same and I’m going to do that (again) starting with Game 1 on Thursday. I have to play the same kind of hockey I’ve been playing. Hopefully that’s good enough.”
Forward Radim Vrbata
likes the way the Coyotes stopped relying on Smith in the last games of the regular season and scored eight goals in those games with so much at stake.
“Now it seems like we have everybody contributing,” Vrbata said. “I feel like we’ve gotten our game to where it needs to be. Hopefully that will translate into Thursday’s game.”
• Because they won the division, the Coyotes are the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs with 97 points. The Blackhawks, who earned 101 points but finished fourth in the Central Division, are the No. 6 seed. Because they earned more points, many so-called experts have tabbed the Blackhawks as the favorite to win the series and the Coyotes as the underdog.
Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle
doesn't seem to mind the slight.
“The good thing for me is I don’t read too much of the press clippings and stuff like that,” Yandle said. “I think we just have to worry about what we’ve got to do. We know we have a great team in here … and I think we’ll be fine.”
• Defenseman Adrian Aucoin
, who missed the past two games because of a minor injury, is expected to play on Thursday. Aucoin played two seasons for Chicago (2005-07) and served as captain of the Blackhawks during that time.