The Chicago Blackhawks were looking for one more chance, one more game to even this series up with the Phoenix Coyotes and send it back to Glendale, where anything could happen in a Game 7.
But in Game 6 there would be no late-regulation heroics for the Blackhawks. No overtime opportunity. And ultimately, no Game 7.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored a power-play goal, and Mike Smith was mesmerizing in a 39-stop shutout as the Coyotes beat the Blackhawks 4-0 to win their Western Conference quarterfinal series on Monday night. The Coyotes won the series 4-2, with three of those victories coming on United Center ice. Its the first time theyve gotten past the first round since the 1980s, when they were the Winnipeg Jets.
For the Blackhawks, it was the second first-round exit in as many seasons. And this one stung more than last season. There was no big team dismantling and no massive changes from last seasons roster. This Blackhawks team thought they had found the right pieces to win now; but against a defensive-minded team with a goaltender unwilling to give up much, the Blackhawks came up short.
We had flurries, chances. It just didnt go in, Duncan Keith said. I dont know if its the goaltender or us not bearing down or getting in front of him. Its easy to look back now. In the end, we just didnt get it done.
No, but the Blackhawks had some of their best scoring chances of this series in Game 6. There were a lot of them, too, as the Blackhawks commanded a 16-2 edge in shots after the first period; they outshot Phoenix 39-20 for the game. But Smith was impenetrable; making every stop from the ho-hum to the how-did-that-not-go-in.
Tonight Mike Smith had a special game, coach Joel Quenneville said. We come out of that first period (scoreless), that was a moral victory of them. It was the first period, the first two periods, with the quality and quantity without scoring that certainly hurt.
A few other things hurt, too. Top scorers, all of them, struggled to get points. Corey Crawford gave up two tough ones in back-to-back games. And the Blackhawks power play, which struggled all season, was a dismal 1 for 19 in this series.
Yeah, special teams are big. We talk about that all the time, Patrick Sharp said. I thought we were playing well the first two periods, they score on the power play and were chasing. It wouldve been nice to score on the power play, for sure.
And then there was Marian Hossa, or the loss of him. Quenneville said, you always look back in a series, and theres a defining situation that you can say was a turning point. That was probably the one. As for the right wings health, Quenneville said, he hasnt felt very well at all. His first day out of the house (today), hes not doing a lot. Hopefully he progresses.
But this was still ultimately about the players on the ice. The desperate Blackhawks threw everything at Smith on Monday night. He stopped it all. And when Ekman-Larsson scored in the second period, the Coyotes finally ultimately had a one-goal lead that the Blackhawks wouldnt overcome.
And as far as why the Blackhawks couldnt claim at least one game on their home ice? Nobody seemed to have an answer.
Yeah, I dont think anyone wouldve predicted that one, said Corey Crawford, who allowed four goals on 20 shots. We were so good at home through the year, I dont know. Its tough luck and some bounces didnt go our way, especially at home. I cant explain it. Its just the way it goes sometimes.
The Blackhawks had high hopes coming into this season. They thought they would contend for the Cup. And they thought they would come back, much like they did against Vancouver last spring, and force a Game 7.
They came up short.
We went through some tough times and we always seemed to come out better and stronger as a team, Jonathan Toews said. We were down 3-1 in the series, and we had no doubt wed find a way to come back and force Game 7. It got cut short a game, I guess.