Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith (41) blocks a shot against the Chicago Blackhawks during the second period of Game 6 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Chicago, Monday, April 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
His 6-foot-4, 218-pound frame blocking all access to the goal, Mike Smith pushed away shots from all angles and sent the Phoenix Coyotes into unfamiliar territory — the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“You know what? Smitty was unbelievable and thankfully he’s on our team. It was a good way to win,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said after finally reaching the second round in his 16th NHL season.
The Coyotes, with Smith making 39 saves, finished off the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0 Monday night to win the series in six games. They’d never captured a first-round playoff series since moving from Winnipeg to Phoenix for the 1996-97 season, and the franchise’s last opening-series victory came in 1987, when the team was called the Jets.
“It’s a relief because you just want to get a chance to do something in the playoffs,” said the 35-year-old Doan, who began his career with Winnipeg in 1995. “Everyone always talks about if you get out of the first round, anything can happen.”
Now it’s onto the next series against the Nashville Predators and another stellar goalie.
“They’ve got Pekka Rinne and he’s unbelievable, too,” Doan said. “You look what he did in the Detroit series.”
On Monday night, Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored in the second for the Coyotes and Gilbert Brule, Antoine Vermette and Kyle Chipchura had goals in the third.
Smith had 229 saves in the six games against the fast-charging Blackhawks, who came out with a flurry of shots in the first period Monday night and finished with a 39-20 shots advantage.
“You play in the moment and just worry about the next shot and hopefully that’s good enough. And tonight, it was,” Smith said. “A lot of things have to happen for you to get a shutout in this league, especially in the playoffs, and against a team like that says a lot about the group in here . blocking shots and finding guys’ sticks and pucks just hitting me, too.”
The Blackhawks, who’d won Saturday night in Glendale, Ariz., to bring the series back to the United Center, lost their third straight on home ice and now have been eliminated in the first round two straight years after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010.
Monday’s game was the first in the series not to reach overtime. Jonathan Toews, whose shot had beaten Smith in Game 5, was frustrated Monday night, like all his teammates.
“I don’t know what to say right now. We worked so hard, we had so many chances, and every time we had a chance and it didn’t go in, we said, ‘Keep working, we’ll get another one. It’ll go in eventually,’” Chicago’s captain said.
“They play well around Mike Smith, his size especially. We got so many pucks through and they always found a way to hit him in the head, the pads or the shoulder. We didn’t get any lucky ones on him. He played great, but we didn’t find a way to beat him.”
Ekman-Larsson’s long slap shot from the top of the slot on a power play sailed by a screened Corey Crawford at 13:14 of the second period after Chicago had forced the action most of the night.
Martin Hanzal, who returned after missing three games, provided the screen for the Coyotes, who scored on their sixth shot of the game and went on the power play after an interference call against Toews. The Blackhawks had 22 shots at the time of the Coyotes’ score, but Smith was too good to crack.
And then Brule took Chipchura’s nice pass from behind the net early in the third and poked it in for a two-goal lead.
Chicago’s Jimmy Hayes was given a game misconduct and a 5-minute boarding penalty when he slammed Phoenix’s Michael Rozsival from behind and drove him face first into the glass. Rozsival stayed down on the ice for about a minute and then skated off with some assistance at 8:47 of the third.
The Blackhawks nearly killed off the 5-minute power play, but Vermette scored with 42 seconds remaining by tipping in a shot — his fourth goal of the series. Just less than two minutes later, Chipchura scored again.
The Hawks came out and dominated play in the early going with an 11-1 shots-on-goal advantage in the opening nine minutes. Only two great stops by Smith on point-blank attempts by Andrew Shaw and Hayes kept the Blackhawks from taking an early lead. Another shot attempt by Johnny Ouya hit the side of the goal. Chicago had eight shots in the first 3:14 of the game, peppering Smith, and finished the scoreless period with a 16-2 advantage.
After his stellar first period, Smith picked up where he left off, stopping Toews in the first minute of the second and then used his left pad to snuff Brendan Morrison after he moved into the slot for a pass from Toews. Minutes later, a scrum in front of the goal resulted in Smith sitting on the puck with Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Andrew Brunette down on the ice with him following a hard shot from Niklas Hjalmarsson.
“The ice was tilted a little bit for the first couple of periods, but we gathered ourselves between the second and third and found a way to win a huge hockey game,” Smith said.
NOTES: Phoenix was 5-0 at the United Center, including two regular-season wins. ... The Blackhawks went 0 for 2 on the power play, leaving them 1 for 19 in the six games. .... Marian Hossa, knocked out of the series by a shoulder-to-head hit from Raffi Torres in Game 3, was at the United Center Monday morning. ‘‘I always look back at series. If there’s a point or situation you could say was the turning point, I think that was probably the one,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said of losing Hossa, the team’s points leader. Torres got a 25-game suspension for the hit. Chicago’s Shaw, suspended three games for running into Smith in Game 2, returned to the Blackhawks’ lineup.