Phoenix a win away from clinching over Chicago

The Phoenix Coyotes have lost players to injuries and

suspensions. They get off to slow starts, give up goals late in

regulation. Nothing ever seems to be easy.

So how do they handle the adversity? Shrug their shoulders and

grit their teeth.

Buoyed by a band-together resiliency that comes with having no

real star players and an uncertain future in the desert, Phoenix

has scrapped its way to the doorstep of the franchise’s first

playoff series victory in 25 years.

Leading the Chicago Blackhawks 3-1 after Mikkel Boedker’s second

straight overtime winner, the Coyotes can close out the testy

series in what figures to be a charged-up Jobing.com Arena for Game

5 Saturday night.

”There’s two ways you can go with adversity: you can go poor us

or you can look at it as a motivating factor. Our group looks at it

as a motivating factor, simple as that,” Coyotes coach Dave

Tippett said Friday. ”The adversity that our team goes through on

and off the ice is something that has made our group a lot

stronger. You get into tough situations, nobody gets

flustered.”

The Coyotes have looked almost uncomfortable unless they’re on

the cusp of calamity, losing players, momentum and leads.

They’ve found ways to fight back almost every time.

Game 1 against the Blackhawks, Phoenix lost leading goal-scorer

Radim Vrbata on his first shift, gave up a goal with 14 seconds

left, won it in overtime.

Game 2: Martin Hanzal goes down early, Chicago gets another goal

to go in late, this time with 5 seconds left. The Coyotes lost that

game, but rallied in Game 3 in Chicago, winning in overtime without

Hanzal or forward Lauri Korpikoski.

The pattern continued in Game 4 Thursday night.

Hanzal and Korpikoski again were out and scrappy forward Raffi

Torres didn’t play after being suspended for a chin-lifting hit on

Marian Hossa in the previous game. Another player was lost when

enforcer Paul Bissonnette received a game misconduct because he

didn’t have his jersey tied down and it came off during a fight

with Brandon Bollig.

If that wasn’t enough, Phoenix again gave up another late tying

goal, this one by Michael Frolik with 1:26 left to make the series

the first since 1951 – second ever – to open with four straight

overtime games.

No matter to the Coyotes.

Taking a been-here-before approach during the intermission, they

charged out of the locker room and ended it quickly, with Boedker

squeezing a puck between Chicago goalie Corey Crawford’s pads 2:15

into overtime.

The victory puts Phoenix on the cusp of its first playoff series

victory since 1987, when the franchise was still the Winnipeg

Jets.

Given the way the series has gone so far, it isn’t likely to be

easy.

For a group that’s played the past three seasons without an

owner and uncertain future, they almost wouldn’t have it any other

way.

”We’ve joked about it: It’s hockey the hard way,” Coyotes

captain Shane Doan said. ”You don’t want to make it easy, you’ve

got to make it hard. It’s been fun, though.”

Chicago hasn’t enjoyed it much.

The Blackhawks have shown some resiliency of their own, rallying

to force overtime with late goals three times.

They just haven’t been able to finish it off.

With chances to win all four games, Chicago has come through

just once, winning Game 2 in Phoenix on Bryan Bickell’s goal in

overtime.

On the brink of elimination, the Blackhawks need to conjure up a

rally quickly. They did it on the way to winning the Stanley Cup in

2010 and rallied to force a Game 7 last year against Vancouver

after trailing the series 3-0.

Fail on Saturday and it’ll be an offseason of looking back at

what could have been, all those near-misses gnawing at them until

camp starts next season.

”Sure we can feel confident; we’ve won three playoff games in a

row before,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. ”But you can’t

win three in one night. (We just have) to focus on one game; every

period, every shift can be the difference.”

The biggest task for the Blackhawks will be solving Coyotes

goalie Mike Smith.

One of the NHL’s best goalies during his first full season as a

No. 1, Smith has been superb through most of the series, almost

singlehandedly carrying the Coyotes at times. Shaking off a blow to

the head by Chicago’s Andrew Shaw in Game 2 – one that left him

lying on the ice for five minutes – ”Smitty” has frustrated the

Blackhawks with his ability to move pucks from outside the crease

and to stop almost everything that comes at him.

When Chicago has had success against Smith, it’s been by

creating traffic in front of him. The Blackhawks have done it for

stretches, particularly with late flurries that led to tying goals

in three games, but haven’t done it enough to gets pucks past

him.

”He’s a great goaltender and he’s going to make the saves that

he sees,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said. ”You look at

every goal we’ve scored it’s been bodies at the net, deflections,

screens, ugly goals. That’s the way we’ve got to be

successful.”

Phoenix has scored a couple of ugly goals against Crawford,

which may lead to a change.

Though steady through most of the series, Crawford has given up

what some consider soft goals in overtime the past two games:

Boedker from a sharp angle in Game 3, Boedker between his pads

Thursday night.

With veteran Ray Emery waiting, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville

could opt to make a change for Game 5, though he wasn’t ready to

reveal his hand just yet.

”We’re talking about that,” Quenneville said before the team

left for the desert on Friday. ”We’ll talk about our scenario. I

don’t foresee making any announcements.”

One player will certainly be out; Hossa’s condition hasn’t

changed and he isn’t making the trip to Phoenix.

Torres had his hearing with the NHL on Friday, but the length of

his suspension isn’t expected to be known until sometime before the

game on Saturday.

The way it’s gone for the Coyotes, it may not matter who’s on

the ice for them.

AP Sports Writer Rick Gano in Chicago contributed to this

report.