Blackhawks get dramatic OT win to split series with Coyotes 1-1

The Chicago Blackhawks made a lot of mistakes in the first game of their series versus the Phoenix Coyotes, and corrected most of those in their second game on Saturday night.

It was an exciting game, starting with Bryan Bickell of the Blackhawks opening the scoring 3:05 into the first period, proving that Chicago's power play isn't entirely impotent.  Raffi Torres tied it up for Phoenix just under 6 minutes later. When Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks closed in on Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith, the puck on his stick, Smith put his hands up and made first contact. Yet Toews was the one who ended up with a penalty for interference, and then the Coyotes took the lead at the 13:44 mark with their own PPG.

In the second period, rookie enforcer Brandon Bollig scored his first goal of the season for the Blackhawks to tie the game, but the game screeched to a halt just 14 seconds later when fellow rookie Andrew Shaw collided with Phoenix goalie Mike Smith behind the Coyotes' net. Smith was playing the puck behind the net when Shaw made a play for the puck. which resulted in him colliding with Smith. Shaw is just 5'10" and Mike Smith is 6'4"; however, due to Smith's posture in playing the puck, Shaw's shoulder connected with the front grid of Smith's mask.

Smith has a history of concussions. In January 2007, when playing for the Dallas Stars, he took a slapshot to the head which resulted in a concussion. He had another concussion during the 2008-09 season when playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning which ended his regular season, although he returned for the playoffs.

In light of that, it leaves a lot of questions about why Smith stayed in the game at that point. In reviewing the video, Shaw looks like he is trying to avoid hitting Smith, but at high speed and in tight quarters, it becomes difficult to do so. Smith spun around, hit the ice, and lay there, clutching his face or head, while the training staff went out on the ice to attend him. Smith was on the ice for at least 4-5 minutes, which included a commercial break.

The refs and linesmen conferred and waited to see what the outcome would be. After it appeared that Smith would leave the game - backup Jason LaBarbera even began warmups by the bench - they gave Shaw a 5-minute major charging penalty, and a game misconduct. The level of the penalty assessed means the league will review the play and Shaw will be subject to a fine. Further punishment - if any - would need to be determined prior to Tuesday, when the two teams missed again.

Once Shaw was ejected from the game, Smith got up off the ice and resumed play in the game; LaBarbera did not enter in relief. In light of Smith's history of concussions, and how much the League has been trying to enforce against head hits, it would seem obvious and logical for Smith to have left the game. After all, it can sometimes take a couple days for concussion symptoms to evolve. Yet Smith stayed, and went on to have a 50-save game. After the game, he was evaluated for over an hour, and Coyotes PR reported him as saying he felt "100%".

Discussion on NHL channels and Twitter were split, although the vast majority felt that Smith embellished the call. One of the analysts on the NHL Network said that if you're a goalie, making a play behind the net, you would be expecting an opposing player to be challenging you for the puck. As the broadcasters on CSN-Chicago pointed out, by the refs ruling it a 5-minute major, it got Andrew Shaw ejected from the game. Shaw has been the most noticeable player for the Blackhawks in both games, but particularly in the opening game, where he drew penalties, played 20:02 TOI, and made his presence felt throughout the game. In light of Shaw being tossed out and Smith continuing to play, apparently uninjured, both the observation and the analysis make perfect sense. 

After the game, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett called it a "blindside hit", but in scrutinizing the video, Smith is playing the puck and turns his head in enough time to both look where he wants to play the puck - and to see Shaw's approach. It will be interesting to see what Shanahan has to say about the play and the assessed penalty, especially in light of other actions that have been happening in the first four days of this year's playoffs.

The teams held each other scoreless for the rest of the period and then most of the third. With just 5.5 seconds left, sustained pressure against Phoenix resulted in a goal by Patrick Sharp, and suddenly the teams were headed to overtime. In doing so, the Blackhawks became the first team in NHL history to score tying goals with less than :15 seconds left in regulation in consecutive games of one series.

There were a lot of SOG for both sides in the 9:24 it took for sudden death overtime - 11 for Chicago, 7 for Phoenix. But Bryan Bickell's was the first to go in, giving the Blackhawks the dramatic win.

* * *

The two teams will now head to Chicago for games 3 and 4 of this series, tied at 1 game each. The next game is Tuesday at 8pm Central at the United Center.
 

UPDATE: Andrew Shaw will face a disciplinary hearing on Monday 4/15 for the hit on Smith. Due to the in-game penalty he was assessed, the hearing is automatic; however, as Mike Smith stayed in the game and was reported as "100%" after the game, should be a factor in Shanahan's ruling.