Frank Doyle previews the Western Series between #3 Phoenix and #6 Chicago!
So how about them ‘Yotes? Of all the surprising teams in the playoffs this year, Phoenix is the one that was hardest to see coming. All year, whenever people talk about a second Toronto franchise or a franchise in Hamilton or Quebec, people think the Coyotes will pack their bags and haul on out of there. All they’re doing out there is killing time in the desert.
Instead, here they are, in the playoffs for the third straight year, third seed in the Western Conference and getting set to host Chicago in Game 1 the first round series tonight.
Conventional wisdom didn’t see the Coyotes surviving the departure of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to Philadelphia at the start of the season, but Mike Smith has been solid as a rock between the pipes for Phoenix. Not only that, but the blue line in front of him aren’t any pushovers either. Coach Dave Tippett has maximized his resources and the Coyotes are set for their first playoff series win since they were in Winnipeg.
Chicago hasn’t had it so easy. The Blackhawks were fine until January when they hit a nine-game losing streak, and haven’t really recovered from that tailspin. Worse, captain and center Jonathan Toews remains on the injured reserve since a 3-1 win over St Louis on February 19th and, concussion being what it is, nobody is really sure when he’ll be back.
The Chicagoans have been optimistic all week about Toews returning just in time for the playoffs and the word from the Blackhawks is that he will indeed skate tonight. But actual concussion or concussion-like symptoms can take a long time to dissipate and if Toews is pulled at the last minute it will be hard to be very surprised.
There are still goals in Chicago – Patricks Sharp and Kane are there and Marion Hossa has been stellar this year, but the presence of Toews is the difference between the Blackhawks being a real threat or making up the numbers.
Chicago will take solace from the fact that it’s an accident of divisions that has given Phoenix the higher seed rather than on-ice superiority but the Coyotes have surprised a lot of teams this year. Will they surprise another tonight?