The motto for the Phoenix Coyotes this season has been "Hockey the Hard Way" and it's not going to get any tougher than the remainder of the series with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The 'Hawks are one of the best playoff teams in the NHL and have used their veteran knowledge to beat a Coyotes team that, frankly, has outskated them for a majority of the series. But the 1-1 series is leaving the desert and heading to the Windy City and, if the Coyotes are going to win the series, they need to get tougher.
Last-minute goals have been a problem with this team for seasons upon seasons, but they seemed to have the problem solve by the middle of the season. Obviously as of late, the problem has returned.
To clinch a playoff series, any hockey team needs to be able to play a full 60 minutes of hockey without letting up. In the last two games, after working their butts off for 59:45 and 59:55, respectfully, the Coyotes had a lapse. The defense became unorganized, the Blackhawks gave the puck to Seabrook, who forced the game to overtime via a goal and an assist. When the other team's desperation kicks in, the Coyotes need to be tough and not give up the space and do everything it takes to get rid of the puck and close the game.
I'm not saying these guys don't have grit and sandpaper that it takes to win a playoff series, they do. But the Blackhawks have stepped up their physical play in an attempt to beat the Coyotes at their own game and therein lies the problem: the Blackhawks are winning.
Injuries happen in hockey and the intensity of the game hits an entirely new level in the playoffs. It's not a question of if guys get hurt, but when. In Game 1, Radim Vrbata went off with an injury, but returned for Game 2. In Game 2, Martin Hanzal left the arena for tests, Lauri Korpiskoski didn't finish the game and Mike Smith damn near was placed on the concussion list. The hits are going to keep coming and the Coyotes need to find a way to push through the smaller injuries or do more to protect their own players.
The Coyotes need to be the tough road team they have been all season when they play in Chicago. They have to take at least one game from the 'Hawks if they're going to stay competitive in the series. A 2-2 record is a must, because if the Coyotes are faced with three win-or-go-home games, they won't win. It's that simple. The 'Hakws have the experience and will ice the series in one of their three opportunities.
When you play hockey the hard way, you have to be tough. Simply put, when it came down to it in the first two games, the Coyotes let up a few times and the Blackhawks made them pay. The Coyotes can win this series, but if they are to do so, they're going to have to play their toughest hockey of the season.