One year ago today, things were looking a little differently. The first round of the NHL playoffs were going strong, and the Blackhawks were just two games away from being eliminated by the Coyotes in the first round.
This year it all changed. Among Chicago's many successes since the shortened 2013 campaign began, the Blackhawks went 2-0 in their first two matchups against Phoenix. Saturday's matchup wasn't quite as successful as the Blackhawks fell 3-2 in a shootout, but their performance was still enough to give their opponent a numbers of reasons as to why they're the best team in the league.
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"Their depth is second to none when they have that kind of lineup coming at you every single night," Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith said of the Blackhawks. "They're gonna beat a lot of hockey teams if [their opponent is] off a little bit. You have to be at the top of your game playing against a team like that.
"When you have that much skill on a team, it's a recipe for success."
The Blackhawks and Coyotes are at two very different places. On one hand you have a team that's already clinched the top seed in the Western Conference and is well on their way to earning the Presidents' Trophy. Then you have Phoenix, a team that's fighting and scratching for a chance to see playing time past April 27.
Unlike the Coyotes, the Blackhawks have some breathing room. The Blackhawks don't have nearly as much on the line to motivate them, yet they kept up a tough pace throughout the duration of the game.
"I think that's what makes [the Blackhawks] a scary team. When they decide they want to up the tempo, they're a very dangerous club," Smith said. "I think obviously they're playing to play well going into the playoffs and we knew that coming into the game. We knew we had to play our style of hockey."
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Coyotes coach Dave Tippett was impressed with his team's performance, reiterating that his team has no choice at this point but to come out and play hard.
"It's do or die for us. If we don't get points in every game we don't make the playoffs," he said. "Those players are playing accordingly."
Now the Blackhawks have four games left until their true challenge begins. Although they didn't get the two points on Saturday, they're still feeling just as confident in what they have as the postseason approaches.
"When it comes down to the end, we have confidence we can win tight games but sometimes it doesn’t go your way," Jonathan Toews said following the game. "Still more happy with the way we played than the result."