CHICAGO – Brent Seabrook scored twice on his 28th birthday, but David Schlemko and Mike Smith made sure the Chicago Blackhawks didn't blow out the candles on the Phoenix Coyotes' Stanley Cup Playoff hopes.
The Coyotes outlasted Chicago 3-2 in a shootout Saturday at United Center in a game that was decided by Schlemko's roofed shot in the third round of the breakaway competition. The effort was also backed by 36 saves from Smith, who started after missing the previous two games because of a lower-body injury.
Smith made a great stop in overtime to deny Seabrook a hat trick, while Schlemko and Keith Yandle also came up with a pair of back-to-back blocks in that frenzied sequence to deny Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews of likely goals early in overtime.
“It's do or die right now for us, as far as making the playoffs,” said Smith, who hopes to play in Phoenix's final four games despite his lingering injury. “We've got to put our bodies on the line and do what we have to do to win games. Blocking shots is one of those things … so lots of credit to guys who get down and do that. It was a huge team effort.”
Rostislav Klesla and Radim Vrbata scored in regulation for the Coyotes, who headed to Detroit for a key game on Monday against the Red Wings – one of the three teams between themselves and eighth place in the Western Conference.
“We're fighting for our lives,” said Schlemko, who now has more shootout goals this season than actual goals. “We feel like we've got to get two points every night, so every point is huge for us.”
Chicago, which earned a point and hasn't lost in regulation in the month of April, is still contending for the Presidents' Trophy for most points in the NHL – something the Blackhawks haven't done since the 1990-91 season. The Pittsburgh Penguins (68 points) beat the Boston Bruins on Saturday, but still trail Chicago (73 points) with each team having four games left.
The Blackhawks, however, are more concerned about keeping their level of intensity high in those final games heading into the postseason. They also wanted to fix their struggling power play and appear to be on the right track – scoring both of Seabrook's goals on the man-advantage and going 2-for-4 just one night after going 2-for-3 in a 5-4 OT win against the Nashville Predators.
Prior to these last two games, Chicago hadn't scored a power-play goal in its previous 19 chances and slipped further down the NHL rankings in that special-teams area. Now the Blackhawks have it cranked up.
“It means a lot,” said goalie Corey Crawford, who made 29 saves (18 combined in the third period and OT). “I think the power play has to score some big goals if you want to move on throughout the playoffs and I think we're peaking just at the right time.”
It was the first time Crawford had faced Phoenix since the Coyotes ousted the Blackhawks in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs – when some haunting overtime goals lingered into the offseason with him.
Klesla's goal in this game briefly brought those memories. After lifting a dump-in toward the Chicago net, Klesla saw the puck hop off the ice right in front of Crawford and skip into the net to tie it 1-1 at 12:06 of the first.
It was a big momentum boost for the Coyotes, who were outplayed in the game's first 10 minutes by a team that had played just 24 hours earlier. Smith didn't get a chance to ease into the game at all.
Toews put a couple of shots on goal early and a rung one off the left post from the slot, while Smith made a dazzling pad save on a slap shot by Nick Leddy 3:47 into the first to keep it scoreless.
“(Smith) was huge,” Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “We iced the puck (in the first), got stuck with a tired line out there. They came with the Toews line and they put some good pressure on us. We were kind of laughing after the first period. We needed to get (Smith) into the game early and he got into the game early.”
Smith also made a great glove save against Brandon Saad later in the first.
Seabrook scored the game's first goal 11:20 into it off a slapper from the left circle that sailed through a nice screen to cap a power play. After Klesla tied it, Vrbata scored at 14:40 of the first to put Phoenix up 2-1 – beating Crawford on the short side from the left circle.
That's how it stayed until 3:39 of the second, when Seabrook capped another power play with his second goal of the night to tie it 2-2 and make the rest of the NHL raise a collective eyebrow. Chicago is suddenly scorching on the power play and Seabrook's second goal – his seventh of the season – was a beauty.
After drawing the attention of all four Phoenix penalty killers toward the right circle, Kane zipped a perfect backhand pass to the low slot, where Seabrook drifted unchecked. He ripped a snap shot that beat Smith over the catching glove and that tilted momentum for the rest of the period.
Neither team scored for the rest of regulation and OT – despite some great chances – and it boiled down to Schlemko and Smith in the shootout.
“We got a couple of breaks and we've given up some points in the shootout, so it's great to see us get the extra one in the shootout … but we're just trying to stay alive right now,” Tippett said. “We're battling through a few injuries here, but guys are working and desperate and we found a way to get the points tonight.”
FIVE FOR PHOENIX
1. Defenseman David Schlemko entered the game never having taken a shootout attempt in an NHL game. “I finally got a chance, so I figured I’d better bury it,” Schlemko said. “We’re fighting for our lives. That extra point is huge and I think we deserved it."
2. Defenseman Rostislav Klesla scored his second goal of the season and his first since Feb. 28. The goal was Klesla’s first point since he notched four assists vs. Nashville on March 28.
3. Forward Radim Vrbata scored his nith goal of the season. All but one have been scored on the road.
4. Defenseman Derek Morris did not play because of a lower-body injury. He is considered day-to-day.
5. Defenseman Keith Yandle, a Boston native, honored Boston Marathon victim Martin Richard by wearing Richard’s name and age (8) on his sweater for warm-ups.
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