Given the history of the Phoenix Coyotes in the NHL playoffs, even the most ardent fan painted in white for the traditional playoff White Out might not have believed.
The Coyotes had lost six of the previous seven Game Ones in franchise (Phoenix) history and have never made it out of the first round. There's still time to continue that lowly streak, but the Coyotes had something to celebrate Thursday -- an opening-game, 3-2 overtime victory in their quarterfinal playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks, in front of a sellout crowd at Jobing.com Arena.
The difference was found in the form of a number of players who were not Coyotes last season when Phoenix was trounced by the Detroit Red Wings in a four-game sweep. Goaltender Mike Smith logged 43 saves and center Antoine Vermette scored a goal with an assist from Raffi Torres.
The game-winner, though, went to Martin Hanzal, a six-year Coyote who knocked in a rebound at 9:29 of overtime to send most folks home happy.
"We just said that somebody's got to be the hero and then you had that moment, you score the goal, it was a great feeling," Hanzal said. "This is the playoffs and that's when it counts, I guess."
The Coyotes played without Radim Vrbata, their leading scorer in the regular season, who left the game in his first shift with an unspecified injury after taking a hit. No update on his condition was given.
Taylor Pyatt tied the score at 1 and Vermette gave the Coyotes a 2-1 lead, both goals in the second period. The Coyotes trailed 1-0 after one on a Chicago goal by captain Jonathan Toews.
Phoenix appeared to have the game won, but Brent Seabrook put in a loose puck with 14.2 seconds left in regulation time to tie the score at 2. The game went to overtime, sudden death, and Hanzal's winner came suddenly off a lull in play.
"We've got people that are chipping in," coach Dave Tippett said. "We found a way to get a win."
Vermette, who came to Arizona in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 22, credited Torres with the key pass on his goal. Vermette's shot zipped past Corey Crawford of the Blackhawks with much force.
"To be successful in the playoffs, it's the way you manage your emotions within the game and within the series. That's what we said between the (regulation and overtime) periods," Vermette said. He hadn't been in the playoffs since 2009 with Ottawa.
Smith entered on a hot streak, always a key at playoff time. For the Coyotes to win, the game needed to be low-scoring against the prolific Chicago offense with Smith, new this year in place of Ilya Bryzgalov, stopping shots like he'd been doing. Mission accomplished, though Smith faced far too many shots for Tippett's liking.
"That goal can't happen but it did, and I got over it and battled from there on in," Smith said. "The atmosphere out there was unbelievable."
A little postgame video/audio from Tippett here: DaveTippettGame1