The Phoenix Coyotes beat the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series last night by a score of 3-2 in overtime. This game could have easily been 5-4 had it not been for the play of both goalies.
The scoring started about 4 minutes into the game when Jonathan Toews scored on a backhand shot from about 10 feet to Mike Smith’s left. This was a great sign for the Hawks, seeing as how this was just Toews’ second shift on the ice after missing the previous 22 games due to a concussion. The Hawks seemingly had the momentum the rest of the first period, but just couldn’t muster up another goal.
Just over 7 minutes into the second period, Taylor Pyatt tied the game on a wrist shot from abut 4 feet in front of the net. This goal came after the Coyotes kept the puck in the Blackhawks’ defensive zone for about a minute and a half straight, which did not allow the Hawks to make any line changes during that stretch. Right before the goal was scored, Blackhawks’ defenseman Sean O’Donnell, who had lost his stick on the play, made a hand-pass to Corey Crawford with the hopes that Crawford would be able to freeze the puck and get a much needed whistle. Unfortunately for the Hawks, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson slapped the puck in behind the net right as Crawford was reaching for it, thus leading to the eventual goal by Pyatt.
Later in the second period, Antoine Vermette beat Corey Crawford on a wicked slap shot from straight out, and just atop the circles. This came moments after the Coyotes got away with having too many men on the ice without the referees noticing. The second period really seemed to be the deciding factor in the game as Phoenix outplayed Chicago in just about every aspect of the game.
The third period was an equally contested period by both teams, but neither side was able to score until there were just 14 seconds left in regulation. Being down 2-1, the Hawks pulled Corey Crawford to get the extra attacker on the ice with just over a minute left in the game. They generated a few scoring chances in the first 50 seconds or so that they had the 6th man on the ice, but nothing great. Then, with 14 seconds left, Brent Seabrook tied the game after a wrist shot by Patrick Kane hit the post and bounced right to Seabrook for an empty net goal. This goal wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t been for the patience of Patrick Kane to hold onto the puck until a good scoring chance presented itself.
In overtime, Martin Hanzal scored to win the game on a deflection off the shot of Adrian Aucoin. This came just seconds after Marcus Kruger iced the puck, and then lost the ensuing face-off in the Hawks own zone.
So, what did we learn after watching Game 1?
Well, first and foremost, the Blackhawks need to play better when they have the lead. Going back to the regular season and then into Game 1, they seem to let down their guard when they are leading in the game. They almost fall back into a defensive approach, rather than trying to build on their lead and put sustained pressure on their opponent. The second period last night was a perfect example of this. The Blackhawks entered the period leading 1-0 in the game and should have been playing with momentum and more aggression to try and increase their lead. However, they did the exact opposite. They put little to no pressure on the Coyotes defense and basically let Phoenix come at them with their best shot. No team should ever have possession of the puck for a minute and a half in the offensive zone, but that’s just what Phoenix was able to do last night, and it led to their first goal of the game.
Secondly, the Blackhawks must get better in the face-off department heading into Game 2. They lost 57% of the face-offs last night, which is unacceptable. One would think that having Toews back in the lineup, who is arguably the best face-off man in the league, would increase the Hawks’ face-off percentage. I don’t see this being as big of a problem heading into Game 2. The Blackhawks are better than that.
Lastly, the Blackhawks must step it up physically. Phoenix out-hit the Hawks 48-22 last night. I know physical-play is not in the Hawks DNA, but they need to do better in that area of the game moving forward in this series. Aside from the hits, they need to win more board battles. Winning the puck battles along the boards gives your team possession of the puck, thus leading to more offense. The Coyotes killed the Hawks in this area of the game last night, which goes along with them being a better team physically.
Looking ahead to the rest of this series, I don’t think the Blackhawks should be too worried. This was only the first game of the series. They were able to out-shoot the Coyotes 45-34, which is always a good sign. If they can win Game 2 tomorrow night in Phoenix, then the Hawks will be in great shape. If they lose Game 2, then they still have the next 2 games on home ice in Chicago, where they had one of the best home records in the NHL this year. However, if the Blackhawks want to win this series, they are going to have to win at least one game in Phoenix. I think they can do that.
I’m sticking with my original prediction in this series. The Blackhawks will win in 6 games.