Coyotes gain audience with Kings

Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith makes a save on Predators forward Patric Hornqvist during Game 5 of...

Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith makes a save on Predators forward Patric Hornqvist during Game 5 of their NHL Western Conference semifinal series at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz., May 7, 2012. (DARRYL WEBB/Reuters)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:40 PM ET

GLENDALE, ARIZ. - Well, I guess all the Nashville Predators can stay out as late as they want now.

The Predators' season, which once had them looking like bonafide Stanley Cup contenders, came to a crashing halt at the hands of the Phoenix Coyotes Monday night.

Backed by the goaltending of Mike Smith, the Coyotes beat the Predators 2-1 and won their Western Conference semifinal 4-1. The Coyotes will now play the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference final, the first time the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise has advanced to the third round.

Between Smith and Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, how is anybody going to score in the next round?

The Predators couldn’t find a way to solve Smith, not even with skilled forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn back in the lineup. The duo had missed the previous two games, one after they were suspended for breaking curfew before Game 2 and the second when Nashville coach Barry Trotz didn’t want to change a winning lineup after the Predators won Game 3.

One question that will dog the Predators going into their off-season will be how the Radulov-Kostitysn circus affected the team. It’s something nobody will ever be able to quantify.

“We got fortunate in Nashville having a major distraction,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “It made them think a lot about dealing with that issue. All we had to concentrate on was the next game and who we were going to win. I don’t think that helped their situation.”

That’s taking nothing away from the Coyotes. They were full value for their victory Monday night and in the series. They got the critical opening goal just before the four-minute mark of the second period when veteran defenceman Derek Morris fired a shot from the point that found its way through the pads of Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne.

The Coyotes made it 2-0 with five minutes to go in the second after it looked like Nashville forward David Legwand was can openered by Phoenix’s Gilbert Brule in front of the Coyotes net and the Coyotes broke up ice. Coyotes forward Kyle Chipchura delayed and found Martin Hanzal coming late. Hanzal snapped a shot through the failed block of Nashville’s Gabriel Bourque and over the shoulder of a surprised Rinne.

Nashville’s Colin Wilson cut the lead in half with six minutes to go in the third with the only type of play it seemed would beat Smith on the night. Wilson cut into the slot to redirect a pass from David Legwand, tipping it by Smith on the stick side.

But the story of the series was the Coyotes not giving the Predators any uncontested looks.

“We made it muddy in front of our net,” Tippett said. “The mud won out in the end.”

The Coyotes win added to an already buzzing atmosphere at the sold out Jobing.com Arena with the pre-game news the NHL is pursuing an agreement in principal to sell the team to a prospective ownership group led by former San Jose Sharks executive Greg Jamison.

The Predators, meanwhile, are left to wonder what their future holds. Their top defensive duo of captain Shea Weber and Ryan Suter had an unimpressive series. Suter, who did assist on Wilson’s goal, can be an unrestricted free agent this summer and Weber could be a restricted free agent come July 1. It’s not out of the question the pair played their last games as Predators Monday night.

“It’s very disappointing. The group of guys we had here was a great group of guys. It’s too bad we couldn’t do anything with it,” Suter said. “Would I like to be back next season? Right now I’m kind of disappointed about how tonight went and haven’t really thought about it.”

There will be a lot of time for thinking now.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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