By Craig Morgan FOXSportsArizona.com Feb. 12, 2011
Is it safe to say the Coyotes have found their groove? Is it ever safe to make that assumption in the wacky Western Conference?
Maybe not, but four straight wins warrant attention, especially when you consider the way the Coyotes have posted them, allowing four goals and limited chances in front of their world-class goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov.
“I think our mindset is real strong right now,” said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, whose team has been sharp since a 6-0 embarrassment against the NHL-leading Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 2. “You hate to go back and say it’s what you needed, but it was a good slap in the face for us to recognize how we have to play and what we have to do to be successful.”
Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks was nearly a textbook example of the style Tippett has preached all season.
Textbook but for the fact that the Coyotes gave Chicago’s lethal power play too many chances and two goals, allowing the Hawks to rally from a 2-0 deficit to earn a point.
Textbook but for the fact that Patrick Kane had a breakaway in overtime that could have won it for the Hawks.
But the Coyotes knew the Blackhawks were desperate. They knew they’d get everything left in the defending champs’ tank.
Chicago was coming off a gut-wrenching loss in Dallas the previous night in which it blew a 3-0 lead and fell 4-3 in a shootout.
The Hawks are trying to avoid the embarrassment of becoming just the fourth Stanley Cup champion in 41 seasons to miss the playoffs the following season, and this was the last game of a six-game road trip for the West’s 11th-place team.
Chicago came out flying, trying to grab a lead before its road-weary legs started barking.
“They played very well,” Phoenix forward Radim Vrbata said.
The Blackhawks peppered goalie Bryzgalov with 10 early shots. Kane and Patrick Sharp narrowly missed goals, but the Coyotes weathered the storm.
When Chicago defenseman Nick Leddy made the mistake of pinching at the Phoenix blue line when Coyotes forward Ray Whitney had the puck, Whitney banked the puck off the boards to a streaking Vrbata for a breakaway goal and a 1-0 lead.
You could feel the shift in energy.
From that point, Chicago managed two shots the rest of the period, while Phoenix came to life.
The surge carried over to the second period when Taylor Pyatt ripped a shot of the short-side post and past goalie Corey Crawford to further deflate the Hawks.
“We let them come at us in the beginning, but then we kind of got it going,” captain Shane Doan said.
And when the Blackhawks made their final push after Duncan Keith’s game-tying goal, Bryzgalov made it crystal clear why Phoenix has more than a fair chance come playoff time.
First, he stoned Kane on the breakaway attempt.
“I just closed my eyes,” Bryzgalov dead-panned.
Then he held Chicago snipers Jonathan Toews, Kane and Marian Hossa scoreless in the shootout while Vrbata netted the game-winner.
“He’s giving our team confidence,” Tippett said.
That, in turn, has put the Coyotes in their best groove of the season.
“Players are jumping in, playing their roles. Our goaltending’s been strong. Our team game has been pretty good,” Tippett said. “If you call that finding our groove, let’s hope we keep over the last (25) games.”