April 23, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Patrick Sharp (10) shoots the puck against Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith (41) during the first period in game six of the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinals at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE
Riding the hot hand of goaltender Mike Smith, the Coyotes stuck to a familiar formula for success in winning their first playoff series since moving to the desert in 1996.
It was a long time coming. For the first time since moving to Phoenix in 1996, there is finally some postseason celebrating in the desert.
By virtue of their convincing 4-0 triumph at the United Center Monday night, the franchise won its first playoff series since 1987, when it was playing under its previous name as the former Winnipeg Jets (not to be confused with the current incarnation). By stopping all 39 shots he faced, Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith put an exclamation point as to his effect on his first playoff series with the Coyotes.
In helping to oust the Chicago Blackhawks in six tight games -- the first five of which required overtime -- Smith recorded incredible numbers against the 'Hawks. He posted a 1.81 goals-against average, stopped 229 of 241 Chicago shots during the series for a ridiculous .950 save percentage, and got a shutout.
Smith established his stellar play when he faced 95 shots in the first two games of the series, and Phoenix came away with a split. The goalie didn't see any fewer than 32 shots on goal in any of the six contests, and averaged more than 40 per night.
While Smith's presence was huge to the ultimate outcome, Phoenix followed a very familiar Dave Tippett formula in each game. Tireless checking, protecting its own net, and waiting for an opportunity for a counter-attack strike. In Game 6, it was never more evident. Although being outshot by a 22-4 count at the midway point of regulation, Smith's rock-steady net minding kept the game scoreless.
When Jonathan Toews was called for an interference minor with 7:38 remaining in the second period, Oliver Ekman-Larsson's blue-line blast made its way through a screen in front and past Crawford to give the Coyotes the only goal they would need.
Phoenix now moves on to play the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference Semifinals, unfamiliar territory outside the first round for the 'Yotes.
With Smith taking on Preds goalie Pekka Rinne, goals could be something of a rarity during the series. Phoenix will bring an all-time high level of confidence, having won its first playoff round, thanks to Smith.