SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes returned to the Valley on Friday in a rather favorable position, one that could see them make history Saturday night at Jobing.com Arena.
After winning two games in Chicago to take a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference quarterfinals, the Coyotes have a chance to close out the Blackhawks in Game 5 and advance in the playoffs for the first time since the franchise came to Phoenix.
You wouldn’t know it, though, by the way coach Dave Tippett spoke ahead of Friday’s practice. He insisted that he and his team aren’t thinking about being on the verge of history.
Article continues below ...
“Today, we might be on the verge of playing better,” Tippett said. “We didn’t play very well last night and we won, so today is all about getting some rest and getting our game in order.”
While the Coyotes might downplay the opportunity at hand, there is little doubt they’re well aware of the stakes. Lose Game 5 and they’ll have to go back to Chicago, where the Blackhawks could even things up and force a seventh game.
Both teams have been here before, though the casts were different, particularly in the Coyotes’ case. In 1999, they took a 3-1 series lead over St. Louis in the first round only to suffer three straight losses, including two at home. Knowing things like that can happen, the Coyotes aren’t getting comfortable even with a strong upper hand.
“It’s nice, but the job’s not done yet” goaltender Mike Smith said. “Obviously, we put ourselves in a good position, but there’s still a lot of work to do and we need to play better. We didn’t play our best last game, and we need to elevate that and bring our ‘A’ game tomorrow night.”
Last season, the Blackhawks found themselves in a 3-0 series hole against the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, but rallied to force Game 7, where they lost in overtime. The Coyotes know this and, accordingly, don’t want to give the Blackhawks an inch.
“You don’t want them to get back in it. You don’t want them to have any life,” forward Mikkel Boedker said. “I think, for us, it’s important to just keep a calm mindset and play to our strengths.”
Boedker, who scored game-winning overtime goals in Games 3 and 4, also said now is the time the presence of veterans like Ray Whitney and Shane Doan — who have been in this position before — helps keep the locker room calm.
“Now it’s important to have Ray and those guys in the room that have tried it before and that have a good feel for it,” Boedker said. “Obviously, now you’re just thinking, ‘We really have to win. We want to win.’ That’s a good mindset to have, but we also have to play the game.”
Saturday’s game obviously does not represent a do-or-die situation, but the Coyotes aren’t resting on having two more games to close things out. They want it now. Playing a team with its season on the line, that will require some of the Coyotes’ best hockey.
“You never want to play extra games, but ultimately you focus on winning one game,” Tippett said. “Winning a game or winning a series is a byproduct of how you play. Would you like to close it out tomorrow? Sure you would, without a doubt. But we’re going to have to play better than we did last night to close it out tomorrow.” TORRES DECISION SATURDAY
Coyotes forward Raffi Torres, along with general manager Don Maloney, had an in-person hearing in New York on Friday with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. The league plans to announce Saturday whether to “assess further supplemental discipline.”
Torres was suspended indefinitely Thursday and missed Game 4 for leaving his feet to deliver a shoulder-to-head hit on Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa in Game 3, but he’s likely in line for more games. Torres is a repeat offender, having been suspended two games earlier this season and fined on a separate occasion. That will likely play a role in Shanahan’s decision, as will Hossa’s continued absence after being taken off the ice on a stretcher.
Tippett said Friday he hadn’t yet spoke to Torres or Maloney. Torres declined comment to reporters while leaving his hearing. Though it’s almost certain the Coyotes will be without Torres in Game 5, Tippett said he isn’t preparing specifically one way or the other.
“We’re just waiting to see what happens,” Tippett said. NO CHANGE FOR HANZAL, KORPIKOSKI
Forwards Martin Hanzal (lower-body injury) and Lauri Korpikoski (upper-body injury) both missed Games 3 and 4 in Chicago, and Tippet said Friday their statuses have not changed. Both were to be evaluated Friday afternoon and will be game-time decisions, with the final call likely being made after Saturday’s morning skate.
It wasn’t clear if either would skate Friday, but the Saturday skate will mean more. Hanzal skated before both Games 3 and 4, while Korpikoski has not participated since his injury in Game 2.