Coyotes Vs. Blackhawks: Mike Smith Holds On For Shootout Victory

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 05: Mike Smith #41 of the Phoenix Coyotes stops a shot by Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks during a shootout at the United Center on December 5, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Coyotes defeated the Blackhawks 4-3 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Mike Smith and the Phoenix Coyotes met the Chicago Blackhawks and Jonathan Toews in the United Center, but 60 minutes was not be enough to hold the action before the Coyotes seized victory in the shootout.

Despite the buzz of NHL realignment breaking Monday evening, there was still a game to be played between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Chicago Blackhawks.

In two meetings this season the road team had come away with a victory, with Phoenix taking a 4-1 victory in late November.

Perhaps in response to having lost their last two games coming into Monday evening, the Coyotes tightened their game, playing strong defensive hockey against the high-powered Chicago offense.

Denying the Hawks a clean look at netminder Mike Smith in the opening minutes, the Coyotes spent most of the first period attacking Corey Crawford, starting with a 2-on-1 attack by Mikkel Boedker and Raffi Torres that would end with a puck in the back of the Chicago net.

Mike Smith aggressively challenged the Blackhawks for the puck and handled the puck with confidence as he helped the Coyotes aggressively transition up the ice, and the Coyotes extended their lead to 2-0 in the final minutes of the first period when Ray Whitney took advantage of a Duncan Keith turnover. Throwing the puck from the Chicago end boards up to Radim Vrbata, the veteran Coyote deked around Crawford as the netminder attempted to dive at the puck. With an open net to shoot at, Vrbata simply tucked the puck past Crawford's legs and in for the goal.

Crawford appeared to struggle with the puck throughout the first period, and he was beaten in the first minute of the second period by a blistering Keith Yandle slapshot from the top of the Chicago zone. Blackhawks' head coach Joel Quenneville had seen enough, calling on Ray Emery to relieve Crawford in net.

The Hawks seemed to wake up after the goaltending change, and it was their Captain who led them back into the game. Taking a pass from Patrick Kane at the right faceoff circle, Toews charged in on Smith as Daniel Carcillo set a partial screen, then fired a quick wrist shot from just above the crease to put Chicago on the board.

Toews scored again with Adrian Aucoin in the penalty box for holding, setting up in front of the Phoenix net and redirecting a Duncan Keith slapshot to cut the Coyotes' lead to one.

The comeback appeared complete when Toews raced into the Phoenix zone off a Damon Langkow giveaway, bursting past the Phoenix defense with a full head of steam. Waiting until Mike Smith was forced to commit on the shot, Toews wired a pass to Patrick Kane across the goalie crease, and the Buffalo native snapped the puck past Smith to tie the game.

Despite the explosive first and second periods, both teams would tighten down defensively, with Emery and Smith unwilling to let a puck past them.

With Phoenix on the power play late in the third period, the game looked like it might turn in Chicago's favor. After Marian Hossa cleared the puck into the Phoenix zone, Mike Smith came well out of his net to play the puck back to his offense, but Marian Hossa forced a turnover, and Smith fell as he attempted to skate back into the crease. Hossa took a shot on the open net and missed wide, then saw his second effort frustrated by Keith Yandle, who jumped in front of the net to cover for his goalie. Yandle kicked the puck away cleanly, then exchanged places with Smith before heading to the bench for a well deserved break.

Neither team found an answer in regulation or overtime, leaving both teams looking to find a victory in the shootout.

With Phoenix shooting first, Dave Tippett sent Oliver Ekman-Larsson out for his first career NHL shootout attempt, and the young Swede did not disappoint, beating Emery on his glove side.

Toews went over the boards for Chicago, but Smith trapped the puck under his right leg pad, giving Phoenix the lead.

Radim Vrbata was given the chance to put the Coyotes ahead by two, and his wicked backhand shot did not disappoint, as he tucked the shot up and under the crossbar.

Marian Hossa attempted to keep the Blackhawks alive, but Smith trapped the puck between his legs, squeezing down on the five hole. The puck squirted through when Hossa whacked at Smith's legs in a reflexive attempt to score, but the goal was rightfully waved off for an illegal second effort, and the Coyotes left the bench to celebrate their second victory in the Windy City this season, putting them into a tie with Dallas for the Pacific Division lead and the logjam for fifth place overall in the Western Conference.

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