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updated: 4/11/2012 6:49 PM

Hawks must be smart, patient to advance

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  • Blackhawks center Patrick Kane and his teammamtes would be wise to listen to coach Joel Quenneville when they play the Phoenix Coyotes, Barry Rozner says.

    Blackhawks center Patrick Kane and his teammamtes would be wise to listen to coach Joel Quenneville when they play the Phoenix Coyotes, Barry Rozner says.
    Associated Press


Sometimes, it really is as simple as it looks.

The Blackhawks begin a series with Phoenix on Thursday night that will be entirely about how smart, patient and responsible they can be in a best-of-seven.

If the Hawks do what Joel Quenneville tells them to do, they will advance. If they freelance, they will go home after one round for the second straight year.

Consider the last time these two teams met, on Feb. 11 in Phoenix with the Hawks nearing the end of a brutal road trip and horrific losing streak.

They gave up 2 goals in the first six minutes and spent the rest of the game taking chances and trying to make up for a bad start -- which is exactly how the Coyotes like to see the opposition play.

Ray Emery was caught wandering a bit on the first goal and Radim Vrbata banked one in off Sami Lepisto.

A couple minutes later, a fat rebound off Emery led to the second goal, but both could have been prevented by better forward support in the defensive zone.

With the Hawks playing desperate, they completely dominated the next 54 minutes, but Mike Smith was superb in the Phoenix goal, and he won the game 3-0 despite the Coyotes being outshot 38-27.

The last Phoenix goal came on a 2-on-1 midway through the second when Dylan Olsen got caught up the ice with the Hawks trying to make something happen on offense.

And that is what this series will be all about for the Hawks.

They must play responsibly in their own end and in the neutral zone. They can't turn the puck over trying to make spectacular plays and give the Coyotes odd-man breaks.

They must be patient, get pucks deep and wait for their scoring chances.

In essence, they have to play a lot like Phoenix plays.

The Coyotes have a big advantage in goal, but since Johnny Oduya arrived the Hawks have been a much better defensive team and Corey Crawford has found his game again, so they must accept the notion that they can win a game 2-1 and trust that the scoring opportunities will eventually develop.

The Hawks right now are nearly as good defensively as Phoenix and are much better offensively, so if the Hawks' forwards play a smart game and help the defense, the Hawks can outplay Phoenix in the Coyotes' end and they will solve Smith.

But if they fall behind like they did on Feb. 11, it's a very difficult team to play catch-up against considering how good Smith has played the last few months.

Jonathan Toews or not, the Hawks have enough offense to win a series against a weak offensive team if the Hawks don't make a habit of getting in a hole, something they can prevent if they play a responsible game.

But that means players like Patrick Kane, Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell, Dave Bolland and Duncan Keith can't get caught up in the action and fail to get the puck deep, giving the Coyotes opportunities the other way.

Phoenix has a tough time generating offense, so the Hawks have to make certain that they don't help out the home team beginning Thursday night.

Offensively, the Hawks have become a much better team since Stalberg became a real threat a few weeks ago, and with two lines rolling up front they can put enough pressure on Phoenix to make it work.

What they can't do is consistently get behind by a couple goals because Smith is too good and it's the precise trap the Coyotes like to spring on their opponents.

Crawford will obviously be a big part of this series as well, but he's been playing fine of late and that's all he has to be in this series.

The Hawks goaltender doesn't have to stand on his head every night like he did against Vancouver a year ago, but he can't wander from his net and give up bad goals, which would most assuredly sink his team.

So how simple is it? Play exactly the way Phoenix likes to play, which is tight-checking, patient and conservative, and wait for their opportunities.

If they do that, the Hawks will advance. If they don't, the Hawks will go home early again.

It says here that the Hawks know what they have to do, and they will execute enough to capture four games in this series.

I make it the Hawks over the Coyotes in six games.

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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