PHOENIX - The first game of a series in the second round can be a strange affair.
Teams are trying to find an emotional bridge from a first-round victory.
There are adjustments in strategy for a new opponent.
Things can be a little disoriented.
But there was one constant for the Phoenix Coyotes in their 4-3 overtime win over the Nashville Predators Friday night in front of white-clad fans at Jobing.com Arena: goaltender Mike Smith.
As he did in the opening round against the Chicago Blackhawks, he kept the Coyotes in the game - making 39 saves - until veteran Ray Whitney ended it 14 minutes into the first overtime.
The Coyotes blew another late lead, which they had done three times in their opening round series against the Chicago Blackhawks. They were up 3-2 with less than five minutes to go in the third when they gave up a power-play goal to Nashville’s Martin Erat.
It was the first power-play goal conceded by the Coyotes in 19 short-handed situations.
They ended up in overtime for the sixth time in seven games in this post-season.
But there was Smith.
His best save in the overtime was on a backhander by Nashville defenceman Francis Bouillon, whom he also stoned in the third period.
Smith outplayed Nashville’s Pekka Rinne in the win and the Coyotes got a rare and key victory on home ice.
The Coyotes won for just the third time in their last 10 post-season games here.
Smith had some bad luck on a crazy bounce off the glass for the Predators first goal by Brandon Yip and saw Andrei Kostitsyn score on a rare second chance, but he shut the door after that.
He helped the Coyotes kill off their 18th straight power play (14 from the opening series against the Chicago Blackhawks and another four Friday night) and came up with the big saves when the Coyotes needed them.
His best might have been in the third minute of the third period, with the Coyotes up 3-2, turning back a close-in shot by David Legwand and then snagging a hard shot off the rebound by Bouillon.
With two teams that play as hard around the nets as these two, goals don’t drop from heaven; they have to be chipped out of rock.
Or off a piece of iron. That’s how the Predators tied it up 14 minutes into the first period after Radim Vrbata, who has been pretty quiet for the Coyotes so far in the playoffs, scored his first at 7:23 on the power play to open the scoring.
Bouillon fired a shot in from centre ice that hit a stanchion and bounced in front of the Phoenix net. Unfortunately for the Coyotes, Smith had gone behind the net because, you know, that’s usually where the puck goes on a play like that.
Instead it went in front to Yip, who got about the easiest playoff goal he’s ever going to score.
Phoenix’s Rostislav Klesla gave the Coyotes a 2-1 lead early in the second when he tried to centre a puck and had it bounce off Nashville defenceman Roman Josi and come right back to him. Rinne, anticipating the pass, was already squaring up for a shot from the slot and had left the right post. The puck came right back to Klesla and he put it in the open side.
One of the things the Coyotes have done really well this post-season is cut down on the second chances around Smith. They collapse people to the front of the net and they gather like they’re giving away escrow cheques.
Rebounds and loose pucks are harder to come by than a John Tortorella quote that’s more than two breaths long.
But Smith let a rebound off a Patric Hornqvist shot lay by his outstretched blocker and it was poked in by Andrei Kostitsyn at 11:19.
Hockey karma comes and goes and it came back on Kostitsyn. He took a tumble at the Phoenix blue line, allowing Mikkel Boedker and Shane Doan to pull away on a 2-on-1. Boedker, the overtime hero who scored twice in extra time against the Chicago Blackhawks, pulled up on Rinne and fired a shot in off the post on the stick side to put the Coyotes up 3-2.
We’ll see what the Predators bring in response in Game 2 Sunday at 8 p.m. EDT.