Hanzal comes up big for resilient Coyotes

April 13, 2012

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Martin Hanzal fills a lot of roles.

He’s the Coyotes' shutdown center against opponents' top talent. He’s an adept face-off man. He creates space for skilled wings Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney. He’s even a proud and attentive new father, as anyone who attended the Coyotes’ win over the Blue Jackets on April 3 can attest after watching him cradle 3-month-old Marty Jr. with a beaming face and smiling eyes.

One role he hasn’t filled? Goal scorer. Hanzal netted just eight this season despite his prolific linemates, and before Thursday night he hadn’t netted one since Feb. 6, when he scored two against Detroit.

“Thanks for reminding me,” he said, laughing.

Not to worry. It’s all good now after the Coyotes’ do-everything Czech redirected Adrian Aucoin’s shot past Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford 9 minutes and 29 seconds into overtime to lift Phoenix to a 3-2 win over Chicago in Game 1 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series Thursday night at Jobing.com Arena.

The win averted a potentially devastating loss when the Coyotes' coughed up the lead with 14.2 seconds left in regulation on Brent Seabrook’s rebound goal. But that’s been the Coyotes’ modus operandi all season.

What’s a game-tying goal with 14.2 seconds left when you’ve already overcome ownership instability, a dearth of highly skilled forwards, the loss of your erstwhile star goalie in the offseason and the loss of Vrbata early in the first period on a hit by Chicago’s Andrew Shaw?

“We’ve shown resilience all year,” goalie Mike Smith said. “We did it again tonight.”

Nobody did it better than Smith. Phoenix’s upgrade over the departed Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 43 shots to give the Coyotes a Game 1 win in a playoff series for just the second time in their eight playoff series since moving here in 1996. But his start had pessimists recalling Bryzgalov’s playoff flops the past two seasons.

In his first game back after missing the final 22 games of the regular season, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews beat Smith from a bad angle with a backhand to the short side just 4:04 into the game to give Chicago a 1-0 lead.

Prior to the series, Smith said he was approaching Game 1 the same way he had approached every regular-season game, but the sight of a sold-out WhiteOut crowd was a little more than he expected.

“I was kind of blown away by it, even in warmups, how white it really was out there. I’ve never been in an arena like that,” he said. “The adrenaline was pumping. I was kind of stiff-legged in the first period -- wasn’t playing the puck much and was kind of was stuck in my net. Obviously that goal can’t happen, but it did, and I got over it and battled from there on in.”

The Coyotes may have to do the same if they lose Vrbata, the team’s leading goal scorer in the regular season (35) for any length of time. Tippett said only that Vrbata is day-to-day without specifying the nature or area of the injury.

If Phoenix gets secondary scoring like it did Thursday from Taylor Pyatt and Antoine Vermette, this team has shown it’s capable of overcoming obstacles. And if the Coyotes start getting goals from Hanzal, he just might enjoy the level of national recognition captain Shane Doan says is nowhere near what it should be.

“Not even close -- by anybody, anywhere in the league,” Doan said. “He’s such a huge part of our team. We count on Marty to do everything.”

Hanzal’s son wasn’t in the locker room Thursday to share dad’s special moment, but Marty Sr. figures he’ll find out in time.

“I’ll tell him, but he won’t get it,” Hanzal said. “He can watch it on YouTube in five years.”