By Brian Hedger | NHL.com Correspondent
CHICAGO – Needing a win to save their season, the Chicago Blackhawks peppered Coyotes goalie Mike Smith with 28 shots on Monday night through the first 40 minutes at the United Center.
But one of the biggest surprises of the season just kept right on surprising.
Smith's remarkable campaign will continue into the Western Conference Semifinals after he stopped all 39 shots he faced in a convincing 4-0 victory that enabled Phoenix to clinch this Western Conference Quarterfinal series in six games.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Gilbert Brule, Antoine Vermette and Kyle Chipchura scored the goals for the Coyotes -- who clinched the team's first postseason series win since moving from Winnipeg to Phoenix in 1996 and the franchise's first since 1987, when the Jets beat Calgary in the Smythe Division Semifinals.
Next up will be the Nashville Predators, who beat the Detroit Red Wings in their opening series in a similar fashion – riding a hot goalie and blocking a ton of shots.
"We kind of threw a 'Rope-a-Dope' at them like Muhammad Ali a little bit, but they were a great team and it was a fun series," said Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle, who finished with an assist on the eventual game-winning goal scored by Ekman-Larsson in the second period. "We battled the whole time and to beat those guys is a huge accomplishment for us."
Coyotes captain Shane Doan has thought about it, quite a bit actually, and wholeheartedly agreed. Doan is the last remaining player from when this franchise played in Winnipeg and hadn't ever been a part of a winning locker room in the Stanley Cup Playoffs until Monday night.
"It's a relief, because you just want to get a chance to do something in the playoffs and make some noise," said Doan, who tallied three of his team's 37 hits. "Everyone always talks about if you get out of the first round anything can happen. Now we've got to find a way to win that next round and that's really our next goal ... to win four more games. If we do that, we'll regroup again."
Thanks to the Blackhawks, Phoenix got plenty of chances to practice regrouping. The Coyotes dominated the final period to make sure there wasn't an NHL record sixth straight OT finish, but until then it was just wave after wave of Chicago's offense – as the Blackhawks tried in vain to beat Smith.
Smith turned away every single shot on goal and also picked up a little help from the goalposts.
On the flip side, the Blackhawks had the exact opposite feeling. Corey Crawford allowed four goals on 20 shots and took the loss, but he also kept it scoreless for more than 30 minutes while his teammates poured on the offense. The difference is that this time, the Blackhawks never really let up on the attack until trailing by three goals late in the third. Meanwhile, they allowed just two shots in the first for Phoenix – which both came from Ekman-Larsson.
Just like the past two games, however, Smith was up to the task -- including a couple of saves on point-blank opportunities that left the Blackhawks and their fans shaking their heads in disbelief.
"I don't know what to say right now," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "We worked so hard. We had so many chances and every time we get a chance and it doesn't go in. Coach (Joel Quenneville) keeps saying to keep working, we'll get another one ... it's going to go in eventually. And it just didn't. We didn't get the bounces that we needed to win the game tonight. It's as simple as that."
One of the more memorable Chicago scoring chances came off a two-on-one rush just 6:54 into the game, when Kane fed a nice pass to Andrew Shaw speeding through the low slot. Shaw tried to redirect it past Smith, but the Coyotes' goalie calmly slid to his left and stopped it cold.
Johnny Oduya also hit the post in the first with a one-timer off a pretty feed by Toews – and it was more of the same in the second (see KEY MOMENT below.)
|Photo by Getty Images.
The Coyotes took a 1-0 lead on Ekman-Larsson's power-play goal at 13:14 of the second – his first career playoff goal. After taking a pass from Yandle near the blue line, the 20-year old Ekman-Larsson – a rising Swedish star defenseman – launched a long blast through two Hawks defenders and teammate Martin Hanzal.
"It was a great feeling," Ekman-Larsson said. "It wasn't (shot) that hard, but it went in. It was a great feeling to score. It was a big goal."
Still, the Hawks kept on pushing while Smith kept turning them away.
Brule's goal made the score 2-0 just 2:24 into the third and gave the Coyotes an almost identical two-goal cushion they frittered away in Game 4 to create overtime in that game. Phoenix won that one to take a commanding 3-1 series lead, but this time there would be no giveaways. The Coyotes sealed it up tight and happily celebrated, knowing their dream of bringing the Stanley Cup to the desert were still alive.
"It seems like no matter what happens, somebody's always got something derogatory to say about hockey down in Arizona," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "It’s nice to get that monkey off our backs. You listen to Shane Doan talk about how much this meant to him, to push this thing along. You just recognize all the work that – not just players, but organizational people – have put in to try and make this thing go down there, and it was very gratifying."
► EDITOR'S NOTE: Dave Vest of phoenixcoyotes.com edited this story and compiled this recap.
Coyotes goalie Mike Smith
made 39 saves in the game, but his most impressive stop came at 5:02 of the second period.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews set up Brendan Morrison in the low slot with a nice pass. Smith somehow made a sprawling pad save on Morrison's shot, prompting groans throughout the building from 20,000-plus Blackhawks fans.
Smith said it was basically just a quick reaction.
"I got a decent push across (the crease) and I was just fortunate to make a save and bury it in my pad," he said. "It was one of those timely saves in games that define, sometimes, winning and losing."
► Click here
to see the KEY MOMENT
|Photo by Getty Images
• With the victory, the Coyotes advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals and a matchup against the Nashville Predators. Click here
to read more.
• Mike Smith
notched a 39-save shutout. It was the first road shutout by a Coyotes goalie in a Stanley Cup Playoffs game in franchise history.
• Forward Gilbert Brule
, playing in just his fifth Stanley Cup Playoffs game, scored his second goal in as many games. Meanwhile, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson
and center Kyle Chipchura
each notched their first goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
• Defenseman Rostislav Klesla
suffered an injury to his face at 1:09 of the first period. He left the game but returned later wearing a full cage across his helmet. He played 9:09 and delivered four hits.
• Center Antoine Vermette
won 13 of 21 faceoffs.
• Head Coach Dave Tippett said defenseman Michal Rozsival
needed stitches inside his mouth as a result of the hit from behind delivered by Blackhawks forward Jimmy Hayes in the third period. Hayes received a five-minute boarding penalty and a game misconduct penalty for the hit.
• Center Martin Hanzal
returned to the lineup after missing Games 3, 4 and 5 because of an undisclosed injury. Hanzal played 18:21 and delivered one hit.
• Defenseman Derek Morris
blocked a team-high four shots and delivered a team-high six hits.
• The Coyotes scratched Adrian Aucoin
, Paul Bissonnette
, Alex Bolduc, Louis Domingue
, Maxim Goncharov
, , Brett Hextall
, Andy Miele
, Connor Murphy
, Justin Pogge
, Marc-Antoine Pouliot
, Brett MacLean
, David Rundblad
, Michael Stone
, Chris Summers
, Jordan Szwarz
, Raffi Torres
, Matt Watkins
and Ethan Werek
• The Coyotes' next game is Game 1 on TBA vs. the Nashville Predators at Jobing.com Arena. The puck drops at TBA.