As the search for their first playoff series win since moving to the Arizona desert in 1996 continues, the Phoenix Coyotes have had to work overtime to get the upper hand in their first round battle with the Chicago Blackhawks. For just the fifth time in NHL history, the first three games of a series needed overtime to decide a winner when the teams headed to another extra frame Tuesday night.
When Mikkel Boedker scored on a bad angle shot that beat 'Hawks netminder Corey Crawford 13:15 into overtime, it marked the second time in the series that Phoenix had found a way to pull out the victory.
While the first two were knotted up late in regulation -- Game 1 by Brent Seabrook with just under 15 seconds remaining, and Game 2 by Patrick Sharp with 5.5 seconds left -- Game 3 ended up in extra time in much different fashion, with three goals (two by the Coyotes) in a 1:05 span midway though the third to end regulation in a 2-2 deadlock.
Goaltender Mike Smith continues to be the story for Phoenix. The netminder was listed as questionable late in the afternoon as to whether he would even be able to suit up at game time, after taking a hit under the chin behind the net from Blackhawk Andrew Shaw while playing a puck Saturday night. Shaw was slapped with a three-game suspension for the action.
Smith stopped 35 of the 37 Chicago shots he faced, and has now made 124 saves on the 132 Blackhawks shots for an impressive .939 save percentage in the series.
On Tuesday, Smith was at his best over the course of the final two periods of regulation and the overtime, when Phoenix was outshot by a 27-18.
The Blackhawks did get a wake up call midway through the opening period when Raffi Torres -- who had knocked Seabrook out in the first round meeting with the Vancouver Canucks last year, and is no stranger to controversy or suspension -- struck with a dirty hit. As Marian Hossa skated through center ice, he lost the puck. Play moved away from the area, but Torres drilled the 'Hawks star forward, it typical Torres-style. He left his skates and drove his shoulder up through Hossa's head, knocking the Blackhawk out cold. Hossa had to be removed from the ice on a stretcher, and incredibly, there was no penalty called on Torres.
The irony of the situation was that NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan was waiting to hand down his ruling for several other players for infractions over the weekend, one of which was a similar hit from Pittsburgh Penguins forward James Neal on Philadelphia Flyers rookie Sean Couturier.
Torres is a repeat offender and would seem could be used as a sacrificial lamb for Shanahan to try and regain some of the respect and credibility he has lost in reaching his decisions on the other suspensions. He's not a player with star power, and his past transgressions will more than likely be used to determine a repeated pattern of conduct.
But this series has been about which club can perform during overtime, and though Chicago -- which was in its fifth consecutive postseason overtime contest -- outshot Phoenix in the extra session by a 6-2 count, Smith outplayed Crawford when it counted most as he held his team in the game until Boedker made his chance count.