Blackhawks enjoy home-away-from-home atmosphere in the desert

NHL WEST COMMENTARY

By DANIEL DULLUM

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Phoenix Coyotes enjoyed their largest crowd of the season Saturday at Jobing.com Arena, with an announced standing-room sellout attendance of 17,321 to watch the Desert Dogs do battle with Chicago.

While good news for the franchise’s bottom line, the bad news was that at least 10,000 of those fans were donning Blackhawks gear, yelling, “Go Hawks, Go.” This scenario left the Coyotes with the odd and frustrating task of trying to take the crowd out of its own building.

“It’s crazy. It seems like it’s always like that when we’re here,” Chicago left wing Brandon Bollis said following the Hawks’ 5-2 win. “I honestly think we had more fans here than (the Coyotes) did.”

To compound matters for the Coyotes, early turnovers and a team penalty for too many men on the ice gave Chicago a 5-on-3 power play less than two minutes into the game. Patrick Kane cashed in on the two-man advantage for the first Blackhawks goal, and by the midway point of the opening period, Chicago had a 12-3 advantage in shots and a 3-0 lead.

Phoenix came back with a pair of goals in the second period, but the damage was done. Bollis’ goal at 10:49 of the third period provided the visitors with some breathing room. An empty-net tally by Marian Hossa in the final minute finished the job for the NHL’s best team (44 points, 20-4-4), as they finished a seven-game road trip 6-1-0.

“It’s frustrating. You feel that, when (Chicago) is at the end of a long road trip, this is a game you can win,” Coyotes Coach Dave Tippett said. “When you’re playing the top team in the league, you can’t come out like we did in the first period.

“This is a good lesson for our team,” Tippett added. “We just have to play better. It’s an attitude.”

Yes, there was some grumbling about Phoenix being a transient sports market and it usually comes up in games like this, or against Detroit, Minnesota, Vancouver and other teams whose fans travel well. The NFL Cardinals have had the same problem for years. But as long as the tickets are sold, there are no complaints from the Bidwell family.

As for the Coyotes, until they start winning more consistently, nights like this will be the norm. But 17,321 is a terrific night at the box office, especially when facing stiff competition from Arizona State vs. University of Arizona football.

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