By Doug Halberstadt
As I’m writing this column, the Chicago Blackhawks are probably comfortably seated on their chartered jet high above the earth en route back to the Windy City. After they touch down, they will go straight to work preparing for game No. 6 in their Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup against the Phoenix Coyotes at the United Center Monday, April 23.
By the time anyone reads this column, the outcome of that game will have been determined. That sets up two distinctly different scenarios.
Here is what I sincerely hope happens. The Blackhawks are in a must-win situation to keep their Stanley Cup playoff hopes alive. A Hawks win in game six on Monday night would tie the series at three games apiece and force a seventh — and deciding — game back in Phoenix tonight (Wednesday, April 25).
Chicago would be in their third-straight must-win game tonight. I’m hoping they can pull it out and move on to the next round. That’s the scenario I’m hoping for.
If the Coyotes win in game six or seven, it would be the first time Phoenix has won a playoff series since moving from Winnipeg to Phoenix. That would eliminate Chicago, and the Hawks would be forced to watch the remainder of the Stanley Cup playoffs comfortably seated in their living rooms. That’s the scenario I won’t expound upon any further.
Albeit nerve-wracking, this series has been incredibly fun to watch. All of the first five games have been intensely played nail-biters, each requiring an extra period to determine the winner. That ties an NHL record set back in 1951 when the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens matched up in the Stanley Cup finals.
The Coyotes took their home-opener 3-2. Chicago evened the series at one game apiece with a 4-3 win in game No. 2 in Phoenix. The next two games were played at the United Center in Chicago, and the Coyotes came away with wins in both of those games by identical 3-2 scores.
Game five had both teams traveling back to the desert. Chicago was down 3-1 and found themselves in a do-or-die situation. After falling down 1-0 and facing elimination, Hawks defenseman Nick Leddy tied the game with his slap-shot goal midway through the third period. In overtime, team captain Jonathon Toews won a faceoff, ran down the puck and beat Phoenix goalie Mike Smith with the game-winner that sailed just under the crossbar and into the back of the net 2:44 into the extra period.
It’s no secret the Blackhawks have their backs against the boards in this series. It will be tough winning three straight against Phoenix, two of which will be in their home arena. Regardless of the outcome of this series, these two teams have provided their fans with some extremely exciting hockey.
If the Hawks can somehow pull off the minor miracle and win at home in game six and then make it past the Coyotes on the road tonight, I hope my heart has the strength to hold up throughout another series. I know it has the desire.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the April 25-May 1, 2012, issue