Not a bad time for Mike Smith to play his best hockey.
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Smith made 38 saves for his third shutout of the season to help the Phoenix Coyotes win their fifth straight game, 3-0 over the fading Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night.
In his last four games, Smith has allowed three goals, and his play has been the catalyst for the Coyotes’ surge.
”In the last two, three weeks, the guys in front of me have found ways to tie up sticks and let me see the puck,” Smith said. ”(Against Chicago), they continued to do a great job in front of me.”
It was the 14th shutout of Smith’s career.
Radim Vrbata, Boyd Gordon and Kyle Chipchura scored for the Coyotes, who are three points behind Chicago in the Western Conference standings. Phoenix is in eighth place in the West, two points ahead of Colorado, which lost to St. Louis 3-2 in overtime earlier Saturday.
The Blackhawks lost their eighth straight overall – their longest skid since the 2007-08 season – and 10th in a row on the road. Chicago’s last win was Jan. 20 against Florida.
”They came out harder than we did and we can’t let that happen,” said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. ”Right now, we need to do something that will make us feel good about ourselves.”
After allowing 10 goals in their previous two games, the Blackhawks gave up two in the first 5:58.
Vrbata scored his 26th goal of the season just over 3 minutes into the game. Coming from behind the net, Vrbata’s wraparound deflected off Chicago’s Sami Lepisto and behind goalie Ray Emery.
Less than 3 minutes later, Gordon, standing just to the right of Emery, slammed in his seventh of the season.
The Blackhawks tested Smith midway through the second period. After taking a shot in the mask from Patrick Sharp, Smith shook off the impact and stopped Toews twice in close within seconds.
Chipchura scored midway through the second period for the final margin.
With a 2-on-1 against Chicago rookie defenseman Dylan Olsen, Chipchura converted a perfect pass from Gilbert Brule into his second goal of the season.
From that point, Smith stopped 16 shots in the final period, and the Coyotes finished the game by playing air-tight hockey.
”The forwards did a great job of helping us out,” said Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle. ”Overall, this was a great team effort, but we know we have to keep playing at a high level to stay in the playoff picture.”
Things do not get easier from here for the Blackhawks. Their current nine-game trip continues with stops in Nashville, New York against the Rangers and in Columbus. They do not return to the United Center until Feb. 19 to face St. Louis.
NOTES: In a pregame ceremony, the Coyotes retired Jeremy Roenick’s No. 97. … The standing-room only crowd of 17,353 was the Coyotes’ third sellout of the season. … With two assists, Brule had his second multipoint game since joining Phoenix on Jan. 12. … The Blackhawks were shut out for the sixth time this season.