It's the Coyotes, so Game 1 win could not be easy
In their Stanley Cup Playoffs opener Thursday night in Glendale against the Blackhawks, it may as well have been "Making hockey harder for ourselves."
The Coyotes fell behind just 4:04 into the game when Chicago's Jonathan Toews slipped a shot past Mike Smith, conjuring up memories of last year's first-round sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings.
The Coyotes survived the rest of the first period and went into the intermission down just 1-0, and then something unexpectedly expected happened:
They fought back.
The Coyotes showed their trademark resilience in the second period, storming back with goals from Taylor Pyatt and Antoine Vermette, allowing the Desert Dogs to take a 2-1 lead into the third.
"We finally got some rhythm in our game a little bit," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said of what changed in the second period.
The Coyotes played pretty well into the third, too, and for 19 minutes and 45 seconds, it seemed like the lead would hold up.
That is, until Chicago's Brent Seabrook punched a shot by Smith and the Coyotes square in the gut, tying the game and sending it to overtime.
No worries, though, because these are the Coyotes. It wouldn't be them if it wasn't at least a little difficult.
"We've had it happen probably three or four times to us this year, so we can deal with it," captain Shane Doan said of the late goal. "It's one of those things that it's just the way it is.
"That's just how playoff hockey is played."
Fortunately for the Coyotes -- and most of the more than 17,000 fans in attendance -- the team fought back once again, with Martin Hanzal scoring at the 9:29 in overtime for the win.
Final score: Coyotes 3, Blackhawks 2 (OT).
It wasn't easy but it was a win, and at this point in the season that's the only thing anyone cares about.
And, after managing to notch the win Thursday, you can't help but feel good about this team's chances. After all, they couldn't even lose when they seemingly tried.
To wit: The Coyotes were outshot 45-34 and allowed four power plays -- two in the third period -- and still found a way to win.
Whether or not this year's team is anymore talented than the last two that flamed out in the playoffs is up for debate, but what is not -- especially after what transpired in Game 1 -- is the fact that this team is as mentally tough as they come.
After all, it would seem like it would be tough to bounce back after letting a lead slip away in the game's final seconds and having to go to overtime to win.
"We were viewing it as more of an opportunity," Doan said. "That's what was talked about in the room. I mean, you get to the playoffs and it's unbelievable, but to play overtime in the playoffs is…when you're a kid you talk about scoring the overtime winner, that's the way it is.
"Not the way you want to go into it, but once you're in it you've got to find the silver lining."
And victories, of course.
As it stands, the Coyotes need three more to go where they've never gone before: the second round.
But that's a long ways away, as this promises to be a painstakingly difficult series, for the players, fans and everyone else invested in what happens on the ice.
It's not easy, but that's playoff hockey. It's also chippy but again, that's the playoffs.
"I think everyone's just ornery out there," goalie Mike Smith said. "It's a fun atmosphere to be a part of, it's fun to play in games like this."
There's at least three more left, though chances are things won't be settled that quickly. Or easily.
After all, this is hockey the hard way.