Reporting Adam Hoge
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By Adam Hoge-
UNITED CENTER (CBS) If only the Blackhawks could play an entire game as if they are down a goal with two minutes left.
For the third time in their Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Coyotes, the Blackhawks scored a game-tying goal in the final moments. And for the third time in the series, they lost in overtime.
“We need to find a way to play the way we do late in games, if we’re down a goal or whatever, we need to find that desperation and bring it right away,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “(We can’t) wait for something to happen where we wake up and start playing the way we can.”
This time it was Michael Frolik – yes, the guy replacing the curiously suspended Andrew Shaw – who jammed home a rebound with 1:26 left to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Unfortunately, it only took two minutes and 15 seconds of overtime for the Coyotes to win it. Nick Leddy took a bad angle and Mikkel Boedker somehow managed to slip a slowly moving puck between the pads of goaltender Corey Crawford on the breakaway.
Somehow, some way, the Coyotes once again managed to overcome a late collapse and beat the Blackhawks.
“If (before the game) we would have said we were going to go into overtime with a chance to win, we’d take that,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said. “So we were upbeat (in the locker room before overtime). We were upbeat and knew we just had to get one chance and we could find a way to win.”
It’s quickly becoming evident that the Coyotes are a team used to adversity. Goaltender Mike Smith has probably been the best player in the series, but it’s obvious the rest of the team is not afraid of the Blackhawks and is finding ways to win, despite the fact that their opponent probably has more talent than they do.
“I’d put their top six against anyone in the league,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “But we really like our group.”
“We have nothing to lose,” Tippett said. “Obviously we’re the underdog in this series against a very good Chicago team so there’s nothing to lose. We’re going out and playing to win.”
The Coyotes have now won four straight games in Chicago going back to the regular season. Tippett said he can’t explain how that has happened, but he points to the team chemistry under an awkward situation in Phoenix as a reason why his team is finding success. The Coyotes are league owned and constantly battle rumors and reports of the team moving out of Glendale, Ariz.
“When anyone talks about our team, the first thing they are going to say about Phoenix, is well, look at the situation they’re in,” Doan said. “You can say what you want about patchwork, (we’re) not really going to get the credit – what Tip has done and what the team has done – we’ll never get it until (the team sale) is done.”
Doan didn’t want to say the situation gives them a chip on their shoulder, but he admitted it’s not something they can ignore.
“I think the situation we’ve grown callous to, we really have,” Doan said. “We do recognize that is what we’re in. It’s not like we’re blind to it. It is what we’re in, but we’ve grown callous to it and I think then other things don’t really affect you as much, because hey, that’s just the way it’s going to be.”
The result has been a team growing tremendous chemistry, you know, the kind that leads to not worrying about things that may go wrong – like giving up three leads in the final two minutes of a playoff series.
“(Chemistry is) imperative for our group,” Tippett said. “That’s the one area where everyone always talks about the adversity we deal with on a day-to-day basis. But what that adversity can do is really bond or galvanize your group. And we’ve seen it. It started three years ago and it continues to galvanize us.”
Now the Coyotes are just one victory away from winning their first playoff series in franchise history. And how do they get that last win against a team that managed to battle back from a 3-0 hole and win three straight against the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs a year ago?
“Keep playing the same way,” Doan said. “Simple hockey. Not change a thing.”
In other words, keep playing to win, as if there’s nothing to lose.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the White Sox, Blackhawks and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.