GLENDALE, Ariz. – Jonathan Toews scored the first goal of this playoff series 11 days ago and hadn't been heard from since – just one of many Chicago's snipers criticized for their lack of production against the gritty and stingy Phoenix Coyotes.
But with the Blackhawks' season on the line in yet another dramatic overtime, "Captain Serious" left his team smiling and the Coyotes still searching for an end to their long postseason drought.
Toews won a faceoff in the Coyotes' zone, ran down the puck, moved back into the circle and beat Phoenix goalie Mike Smith with a shot under the crossbar 2:44 into overtime as the Blackhawks beat the Coyotes 2-1 to stay alive in the Western Conference Quarterfinals and deny a charged-up crowd at Jobing.com Arena a chance to release 25 years of franchise frustration.
Without a playoff win since 1987, the Coyotes still lead the series 3-2, but it now must go back to Chicago for Game 6 on Monday night, extending a series that has already seen five overtimes, a 25-game suspension to Phoenix's Raffi Torres and more than 300 minutes of wall-to-wall tension.
"For myself, I just had a feeling something good was going to happen. We had to keep working and be patient," said Toews, who won 14 of 18 faceoffs, including the big one in overtime. "We want to feel like this game was the turning point in our series. We have a lot of momentum, we're going home and we're thinking that this series is far from over."
Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, criticized for his play in the Windy City in Games 3 and 4 for allowing questionable overtime goals, made 18 saves and outdueled Smith, who made 36 stops but couldn't hold the 1-0 lead the Coyotes took into the third period.
"He was rock solid," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said of his goaltender.
The Blackhawks have forced overtime four times with third-period goals – three times in the final 1:26 of regulation. Nick Leddy made it a little less dramatic with his game-tying goal with 10:45 left this time, but the five overtime games to begin the series ties a 61-year-old record set by the 1951 Toronto-Montreal Stanley Cup Final.
Grabbing his chest and smiling, Quenneville said, "Tough on the ticker. Never a dull moment. At least we didn't have to wait to pull the goalie this time."
Phoenix was 33-1-0 when taking a lead to the third period during the regular season. The Coyotes are 1-2 in this series, losing both times at home when leading after 40 minutes.
"I felt confident in our group going into the third period," Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle said. "I thought we were going to be able to close it out and shut them down and get the win in front of our home fans. But you have to give them credit; they play hard and fought to the end. We just have to be better all-around."
Gilbert Brule gave the Coyotes a 1-0 lead early in the second period, but the rest of the Coyotes generated precious little offense in a game that could have been their coming out party. Now it's back to Chicago, where Phoenix has beaten the Blackhawks four straight times – but now they have to do it again.
"We're going to go up there and battle. We need one win to win the series," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "They came out and played a very good game and I thought we could have done some things a lot better. But it was still a tight, tight game. We're going up there with the same mindset and find a way to win one."
The first period was a mirror of this entire series. The Coyotes had most of the hits, the Blackhawks had most of the shots and Smith stopped kept his team even with strong saves -- including two on Toews -- to keep the game scoreless.
Sticking to the blueprint, the Coyotes stayed patient and waited for a Chicago mistake. And early in the second, the Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson pinched in too tight and Phoenix's fourth line turned an advantageous bounce into a goal.
With two passing choices on a 3-on-1 break, center Marc-Antonie Pouliot went wide and found Brule in stride and on the tape. Brule's wrist shot glanced off Crawford and into the net at 2:46. It was the first career playoff point for both players and sent the overflow crowd of 17,746 into a frenzy.
The Coyotes had several chances to expand the lead including three power plays -- all courtesy of penalties taken by Blackhawks forward Viktor Stalberg – but were unable to capitalize. And after Chicago failed on a power play of its own in the third period, the Blackhawks finally solved Smith.
Duncan Keith slid a puck across the crease to Leddy, who let go a shot that deflected off Phoenix's sprawling defenseman Rostislav Kelsla. The change in direction fooled Smith at 9:15 and Chicago had its first goal on its 28th shot.
"I just tried to get in on net and it went in," said Leddy, who led Chicago with five shots on goal and headed Quenneville's wishes that his defensemen get more involved offensively. "We've come back almost every time in the third period. We just had to stay patient and stick to what Coach Q's been saying. I need to be more assertive and I think I was tonight.
"We don't want to be in this position, but anything can happen, We got down 3-0 last year (in the first round to Vancouver) and we took it all the way to Game 7 in overtime. We know we have the people in this room to do it, and the desire to make it happen."
Leddy had a glorious chance to give Chicago the lead in regulation after an Antoine Vermette penalty with six minutes left. But with Smith down and out and a pile of players in the crease, Leddy rifled the puck over the net.