The Chicago Blackhawks have been to the Stanley Cup playoffs seven times under coach Joel Quenneville. During that time, they’ve compiled 73 postseason wins. Very few of them came in the 2011 and 2012 playoff runs, which saw the Blackhawks suffer a pair of first-round exits.
Today, we’re looking at the latter playoff appearance, a very frustrating six games against the Phoenix Coyotes. Fans will remember goaltender and Emmy nominee Mike Smith essentially stealing this series, posting a .950 save percentage over six games. They’ll also remember a series that saw five overtime outings, of which the Blackhawks lost three.
But, of course, we’ll be looking at the two wins in this series, including on today.
Note: Check out the previous entries in this series at the end of this post.
2012 Western Conference first round, Game 5
Chicago Blackhawks 2, Phoenix Coyotes 1 (OT)
We might as well call this the Viktor Stalberg game, because what else are we going to think of it for? It’s telling that the NHL’s highlight package for this game is barely more than 2 minutes, when most of the league’s video playoff highlights last 6 or 7 minutes. The highlight video contains zero plays from the first period. None.
The Blackhawks had a lot of trouble getting second-chance opportunities on net in this game, but still managed to double the Coyotes’ shot total in the game (38-19). Down 3-1 in the series, the Blackhawks threw the kitchen sink at Smith every chance they had.
Still, Phoenix got on the board first after Smith did what he does best. No, not stopping shots. He fired a breakout pass to Marc Pouliot, who found Gilbert Brule streaking past the Blackhawks defenders. Brule snapped an uncontested wrister past Corey Crawford for a 1-0 lead 2:46 into the second period.
Da Windy City
While it’s worth noting Crawford had a pretty rough series against Phoenix — posting a save percentage of .893 over six games — he couldn’t be blamed for the one goal allowed in this game. He stopped the other 18 shots he faced in Game 5.
The Blackhawks had several scoring chances in the third period, and they offered a preview to their first goal of the game by finding Nick Leddy at the point for a powerplay shot through traffic. That came with about 11 minutes, 30 seconds left in the period, and Smith soaked up the shot.
Not even a minute later, and at even-strength, Michael Frolik, Dave Bolland and Brandon Saad (wearing No. 43), all helped win a board battle with multiple Coyotes. Frolik was the one who backhanded the puck to an unguarded Leddy at the point, and Leddy proceeded to launch the puck through traffic and past Smith, tying the game at 1.
The comedy here, as is usually the case when scoring on Smith, was the goaltender’s pouting immediately after the goal went in. Two of Smith’s teammates served as accidental traffic attempting to block Leddy’s shot, but Smith naturally called them out on the ice as soon as the puck got by him. Solid team player, this one.
Leddy had another fantastic chance on a powerplay with about 5:30 left in the third, as pretty much everyone else on the ice was near the crease and Smith was down and out. But Leddy fired the puck over the net, leaving the game tied. From there, Phoenix had a few grade-A offensive chances, but the Coyotes couldn’t capitalize. Overtime would soon follow.
Now, why is this the Viktor Stalberg game? We haven’t talked about him at all to this point. Well, Stalberg accounted for all of Chicago’s penalty minutes by committing four minor penalties during the contest. They were four different minor penalties at that. So if the Blackhawks lose this game, even though Phoenix didn’t tally a powerplay goal, Stalberg is probably so far in Q’s doghouse he’d need the jaws of life to pull him out.
But hockey can be strange sometimes. Early in overtime, Stalberg beat two Coyotes in a board battle, letting the puck squeak out to Jonathan Toews. With the defenseman who was supposed to be covering Toews occupied by Stalberg, Toews skated in on Smith and fired a wrister past the pouty goaltender, giving the Blackhawks a 2-1 win and forcing a sixth game in the series.
This game could also be considered memorable for producing Saad’s first career playoff point. He picked up an assist on Leddy’s second-period goal. Saad came into the series when generally awful human Raffi Torres attempted to decapitate Marian Hossa in the series’ third game, making his playoff debut in Game 4. It’s interesting that Saad only came in during the 2012 playoffs when Hossa was injured, and then Saad only came in during the 2012-13 season when Daniel Carcillo was injured. And the Blackhawks just lost him for $36 million. Again, hockey can be strange.
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