After turning aside 39 shots, Mike Smith earned his first shutout and Phoenix's first playoff series win. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)
The NHL Playoff Recap gives you THN's take of what happened in each game of the night and what the consequences will be for the rest of the series.
We also provide our Three Stars of the night, which will be tabulated after each round. First Star is three points, Second Star is two points and Third Star is one point. Be sure to vote on who you think the first star was as well.
Of course there's the other side of the coin: The Black Hole is a piece of the lineup that just couldn't get it going on a given night and contributed to a difficult evening for the team.
RANGERS/SENATORS, GAME 6: RANGERS 3, SENATORS 2 (SERIES TIED 3-3)
THN’s Take: Not once since the conference playoff format was introduced in 1994 has the top seed in both the Eastern and Western Conference been eliminated in the first round in the same post-season. Don’t count on it happening this year either. Even though the New York Rangers seem goal challenged – and it could very well be their ultimate undoing in this year’s playoffs – you get the feeling that if the Ottawa Senators were going to knock them out of the playoffs, Game 6 was the game to do it.
Instead, the Rangers gathered themselves in the absence of Brian Boyle to defeat the Senators 3-2 in Game 6 and did so because they finally realized they had to put their petty need for revenge behind them. Instead, they allowed the Senators to get themselves into penalty trouble and capitalized on their chances.
The Senators will now have two full days to stew over their lost opportunity before playing Game 7 Thursday in New York. Aside from the penalties, they actually did a pretty good job against the Rangers, getting all kinds of requisite traffic in front of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Chris Neil, whom the Rangers would argue shouldn’t even have been playing the game after his hit on Boyle in Game 5, was particularly effective in this regard.
The Rangers, meanwhile, began to get production from some of their dormant players and will have a raucous home crowd behind them when they try to finally eliminate the Senators in a series that has gone far longer than New York probably could have imagined. What’s left to be seen is whether or not the rodeo, which was in full force with a mother lode of restraining fouls and various other infractions that went uncalled, is in town for Game 7.
1. Derek Stepan - The Rangers productive sophomore picked an opportune time to score his first three points of the series, making a tangible contribution on all three Ranger goals.
2. Chris Neil - The Senators irritant/enforcer has been a burr in the Rangers side all series and was instrumental in both Ottawa goals, scoring the first off his foot and making life miserable for Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist on the second.
3. Henrik Lundqvist - As usual, the Rangers leaned heavily on their all-world goaltender. He stopped 25 shots, many of them through all kinds of traffic.
The Black Hole: Brandon Dubinsky’s season-long malaise continues with no points in six games. He’s also averaging two fewer minutes per game in the playoffs than he did in the regular season.
- Ken Campbell
COYOTES/BLACKHAWKS, GAME 6: COYOTES 4, BLACKHAWKS 0 (COYOTES WIN SERIES 4-2)
THN’s Take: Remember the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks? They were average at best, but possessed two superstars at the most important position in baseball: pitching. That year, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling pulled the mediocre Diamondbacks to a world title win over the three-time defending champion New York Yankees.
Aside from sharing the same state, the 2001 Diamondbacks and 2012 Phoenix Coyotes seem to rely on the same ingredient for success. Don't let the lopsided Game 6 score fool you: Smith was the one and only reason Phoenix got its first series win (and first one for the franchise since 1987) Monday night.
With a .950 save percentage on the series, it's amazing it took him six games to get his first playoff shutout. But it's even more amazing a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning, starved for goaltending, somehow let this guy slip away.
"Wow" is about the only word you can use to describe Smith's performance. Smith used the word "lucky" to describe it in a post-game interview with TSN's Mike Johnson, which, in a sense, has some truth to it. A grazed post here, a shot one inch to the right there and Smith somehow had his team in the lead through two periods, even though they had only mustered eight shots at that point. But make no mistake, Smith was outstanding in his own right.
Chicago's elimination just adds more intrigue into what should already be a busy off-season around the NHL. They've now been knocked out in the first round two seasons in a row and their goaltending (too many weak goals) was the clear-cut difference in this matchup.
Phoenix's victory is a joyous first for the city, but the difficulty level is about to get ratcheted up against Nashville. With two coaches behind the bench known for getting more out of their teams than what's on paper, we can expect a low-scoring series. Smith's showdown with Pekka Rinne will be epic…much like a Curt Schilling-Roger Clemens showdown.
1. Mike Smith - Well, that was easy. If you were ever to hand the same person all three stars, this would be it. Words do not describe what Smith did to the Blackhawks in turning aside all 39 shots. All but one Chicago player registered a shot.
2. Oliver Ekman-Larsson - His great series continued with a game-high 26:50 of ice time and by scoring the game-winning goal on the power play. Also added a second assist.
3. Jonathan Toews - The Hawks should have won this game and it's not Toews' fault they didn't. He had four shots and two hits in 18:00 of ice time and seemed to be finding his legs again after coming back from a concussion.
The Black Hole: Jimmy Hayes' check from behind on Michal Rozsival was the most blatant, bone-headed play possible at that point in the game. There is absolutely no defending that hit, or the fact it was a five-minute major. The hit sunk the Hawks for good. Patrick Sharp had the wherewithal to recognize the situation and pull back - the rookie Hayes just ploughed Rozsival into the glass face first.
- Rory Boylen