Playoff Bits and Poll: Phoenix Coyotes vs. Chicago Blackhawks

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 11: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Adrian Aucoin #33 of the Phoenix Coyotes come together in a scrum during the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on February 11, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Blackhawks 3-0. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The opening night of the 2012 NHL playoffs did not disappoint: An OT game that included a 3-0 comeback; a clap-worthy honest in-game interview from Mike Babcock; a dumb, dumb act of violence by Shea Weber with time expiring; and the President's Trophy winner losing Game 1 at home on a late goal.

Before we get to our next poll, a few more discussion points:

If this is possible, Nashville's crowd seemed nervously restrained. That building can get LOUD but at many points last night it was as if they were adjusting to no longer being the (technically) underdog.

To paraphrase Dennis Green, if the Flyers are who the Penguins thought they were, the Penguins let them off the hook. Crazy. Pierre McGuire acted like the 3-0 deficit was on Ilya Bryzgalov, but come on: It wasn't. The Penguins dominated the first period.

Watching the Penguins target Niklas Grossman reminds me why teams don't like to disclose injuries, and also reminds me why it probably doesn't matter. They know.

Four more series start tonight. On to the poll and quick overview for Chicago vs. Phoenix:

Phxslim_medium Chi-slim_medium
3 - Coyotes (42-27-13, 97 pts.) vs. 6 - Blackhawks (45-26-11, 101 pts.)
Season Series: PHX - 2 Reg. W, 1 SOW, 1 Reg. L
SB Nation hangouts: Five for Howling | Second City Hockey

Just like its counterpart in the East, the West's 3 vs. 6 matchup has it all backward: The Coyotes are the home team by virtue of their division crown, but the Blackhawks should be the better team.

This series really turns on 1) Jonathan Toews' health and 2) whether the goalie matchup is as disparate as it looked during the regular season. Dave Tippett is a fantastic coach who does a lot with a little but Joel Quenneville is no slouch there.

Neither team has a productive powerplay, and if the series is played at 5-on-5 then Chicago has the personnel edge. But acquisitions like Antoine Vermette sure help and indicate Don Maloney knows what he's doing these days. (Also an indication: Letting Bryzgalov walk, letting Ed Jovanovski be someone else's late-30s big contract.)

Still, great play from Mike Smith and poor play from Cory Crawford can turn the series. So too can Toews, whose absence makes the Hawks look much closer to an average team. Toews expects to play though.

Finally, Raffi Torres could also turn the series by injuring someone important or, alternatively, by taking dumb penalties. It's in the eye of the beholder, isn't it?

The Coyotes took the season series 3-1 (with one shootout win) but only outscored the Hawks 12-9 and were outshot by Chicago 133-94 in four games.

Off-Ice Factors That Will Come Up Because We Get Bored

Whereas last year's playoffs began with ominous news about the Coyotes supposedly headed back to Winnipeg, this year the news is brighter: Possible progress between the city of Glendale and a prospective owner. We've heard it all before, but this is better than an obituary and might keep the questions focused on hockey.

As is brought up constantly, this Coyotes/Jets franchise hasn't won a playoff series since their lone win in 1987. They have never faced the Hawks in a series.

TV Schedule

Thursday, April 12, 2012 10 p.m. Chicago at Phoenix NBC Sports Network, TSN
Saturday, April 14, 2012 10 p.m. Chicago at Phoenix NBC Sports Network, TSN
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 9 p.m. Phoenix at Chicago CNBC, TSN
Thursday, April 19, 2012 8 p.m. Phoenix at Chicago CNBC, TSN
*Saturday, April 21, 2012 10 p.m. Chicago at Phoenix NBC Sports Network, TSN
*Monday, April 23, 2012 TBD Phoenix at Chicago TBD
*Wednesday, April 25, 2012 TBD Chicago at Phoenix TBD

Oh, also, look for more Whiteout in Phoenix.


Pick 'em

Vote in the poll here, but also let us know your rationale and rooting interests in comments, like so:

Head Says: Hawks in 6. Too strong, and Toews sounds ready.

Heart Says: Coyotes in 5. That'd be too cool for those tortured fans.

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