(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs (6) Chicago Blackhawks
When Phoenix lost goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov
to the Philadelphia Flyers, who were willing to pay him $51 million over nine years, the Coyotes decided to go with a cheaper option. Fortunately for them, it proved not to be a lesser option. After inking a two-year/$4 million contract with the Coyotes over the summer, Mike Smith
has earned his paycheck by carrying Phoenix to their first Pacific Division title.
Smith has been good all season, but he’s been matching up with the elites lately. He has a 1.91 GAA and .941 save percentage in 29 games since the All-Star break and he’s allowed all of two goals in his last five starts. That includes a stunning 54-save shutout on April 3rd. If hot goaltending win Cups, then the Phoenix Coyotes might surprise people.
All the same, the Chicago Blackhawks can’t be overlooked. They’re still not far removed from their 2010 Stanley Cup win and they have plenty of scoring threats to counter Smith in Marian Hossa
, Patrick Sharp
, and Patrick Kane
. Of course the man missing from that list is Jonathan Toews
, who is trying to recover from a concussion. Whether or not the Blackhawks get their captain back is one of the big X-factors going into this series.
The other is Chicago’s goaltending. Corey Crawford
has taken a step back this season with a 2.72 GAA and .903 save percentage. They do have a capable backup in Ray Emery
, but he has allowed three or more goals in four of his last six starts.
Chicago has the better regular season record despite the Western Conference seeding, so it’s hard to call them the underdogs in this series, but that’s how I see them without Toews. Since moving to Glendale, the Phoenix Coyotes have never made it past the first round, but I think this could be the year. I’m picking Phoenix to win in six games. Phoenix Ray Whitney
-Radim Vrbata Lauri Korpikoski
-Shane Doan Raffi Torres
-Gilbert Brule Taylor Pyatt
-Mikkel Boedker Keith Yandle
-Derek Morris Michael Stone
-Oliver Ekman-Larsson Rostislav Klesla
-Michal Roszival Mike Smith Jason LaBarbera WHO’S HOT
As mentioned earlier, Smith couldn't be much hotter right now. Ray Whitney
is another Coyotes player to watch after scoring three goals and 16 points in 13 games. WHO’S NOT
Defenseman Keith Yandle
has been limited to just a goal and an assist in his last 11 games. NOTES
Phoenix was one of the more disciplined teams in the NHL this season with only 280 minor penalties. They racked up 757 penalty minutes as a team, which is the third lowest total in the league.
The Coyotes are relatively healthy going into the first round.
Phoenix won their season series against Chicago 3-1. The Coyotes earned a 3-0 shutout over the Blackhawks in their final season meeting on February 11th. Chicago
-Andrew Shaw Viktor Stalberg
-Marian Hossa Bryan Bickell
-Michael Frolik Brandon Bollig
-Jimmy Hayes Duncan Keith
-Brent Seabrook Nick Leddy
-Johnny Oduya Sean O'Donnell
-Niklas Hjalmarsson Corey Crawford Ray Emery WHO’S HOT
has stepped up lately with five goals and 12 points in his last 11 contests. Viktor Stalberg
has been almost as good with six goals and five assists in his last 13 games. WHO’S NOT Brendan Morrison
has struggled since Chicago acquired him from Calgary. He has no points and a minus-four rating in 11 games with the Blackhawks and has spent several games in the press box. NOTES
This is the first time the Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes have ever faced each other in the playoffs. Jonathan Toews
and Steve Montador
are both suffering from concussions. Dave Bolland
is questionable for the start of the first round with an upper body injury. The Blackhawks might also be without Andrew Brunette
, who is day-to-day with a foot problem.
Chicago finished last in the NHL in hits and ranked 26th overall with 1,019 blocked shots this season.