CHICAGO — So close has the series between the Phoenix Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks been that one little bounce of the puck, one fumble along the boards or one faceoff win can be the difference between celebrating a victory and swallowing a loss.
Five straight games have been decided in overtime and who would dare say it won’t go to six when the teams meet again Monday night with the Coyotes leading 3-2.
It’s so even and unpredictable that both teams have triumphed twice on the road with Chicago’s 2-1 victory Saturday night in Glendale, Ariz., sending the series back to the United Center.
“We’re going home, which is going to be good, and try to get a lift from the fans and try to get a big win,” Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook said after Game 5.
“We got to push it to the seventh and try to come back here, but at the same time we’re not looking too far past the next game, we got to come out with a good start and play a full 60.”
The series is tight and it’s been testy. Each team has had a player suspended — Chicago’s Andrew Shaw three games for running into Phoenix goalie Mike Smith and knocking him down in Game 2. And Coyotes forward Raffi Torres, who was slapped with 25 games for his shoulder-to-head blast on Marian Hossa in Game 3, one that saw the Blackhawks’ star carried off on a stretcher and likely finished him for the remainder of the postseason, however long that might be.
After the Blackhawks’ flight was about six hours late getting back to Chicago on Sunday night because of what team officials said were unforeseen travel delays, coach Joel Quenneville said Shaw would play Monday night, and he also ruled Hossa out.
Waiting around in Phoenix on Sunday, the Blackhawks were able to watch some other playoff games.
“You’ve just got to roll with it. I think that over the course of a year or a couple years, you’re going to run into these kinds of things,” Quenneville said about the delay. “These things can happen. You just deal with it.”
The Blackhawks should be familiar with winning elimination games. They captured three last year in the opening round while rallying from a 3-0 deficit against Vancouver, only to lose to the Canucks in a Game 7. In overtime.
Now their goal is to force another Game 7 against the Coyotes, who are shooting for the franchise’s first playoff series win since moving to Phoenix in 1996.
“For most part the only guy feeling it the most would probably be me,” said Phoenix captain Shane Doan, who began his career with the franchise in Winnipeg in 1995-96.
“Obviously, I’d like to get out of the first round of the playoffs, I mean everyone does. We have a great chance and we got to find a way. We worked hard and got ourselves a 3-1 lead. I’d much rather be in the position we’re in.”
Chicago has now played seven straight overtime playoff games, including the final two a year ago against the Canucks. It’s high-octane, white-knuckle hockey with no room whatsoever for error and no blinking.
And the Blackhawks have also shown the ability to rally throughout the series. Four times they’ve scored a tying goal in the third period, three times after pulling goalie Corey Crawford.
“I think the situations have been more indicative of them having to press because we’ve been up and they’ve been trying to catch us in the third and they found ways to do that,” Doan said.
“We’d love to be in the same position again. That’s our goal. That’s where we are. We got to find ways to bury the opportunities we get when they are pressing. That being said, we know we have to play better than we played last night. Last night’s game wasn’t even close to the way we think we should play.”
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who’d promised before Game 5 that he would bring an extra energy and effort, scored the winner from the right circle Saturday night with a high shot that beat Smith. Toews won a faceoff seconds earlier and the puck eventually came back to him, setting up a clear shot.
“This series is far from over and we’re not going to give them anything easily. For myself, I just had a feeling that something good was going to happen,” Toews said.
The Blackhawks have had their problems with the Coyotes’ stifling defense that has bottled up Chicago’s open-ice talent. And Smith has been a major force, facing 202 shots in the first five games and yielding 12 goals.
And the Coyotes are 4-0 in the United Center, including two wins in the regular season.
“We’re going up there with the same mindset. We’re going to have to play a tight game and find a way to win one,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said.