April 29, 2012
Coyotes grab 2-0 series leadTop Preds 5-3 in Game 2 shootout
By Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency
PHOENIX - Hands up anybody who thought we'd be two games into the second round and there would be 15 goals scored between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Nashville Predators.
Or that nine of them would be scored by the Coyotes and they would have a 2-0 series lead heading to Nashville for Games 3 and 4 Wednesday and Friday?
The Coyotes, their future the fodder for so much speculation, are enjoying a pretty good moment right now as the NHL-owned club writes one of the surprise stories of the post-season.
They looked like a different team in their 5-3 win Sunday night, departing from their usual pattern of adopting a siege mentality and relying on goaltender Mike Smith.
Remarkable that, for the first time in their eight games in the playoffs, the Coyotes outshot their opponent, getting 39 shots on Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne, the most they’ve had in these playoffs. Not coincidentally, five goals is the most they’ve scored in these playoffs.
“I would say this is the best 60 minutes we have played in the playoffs for sure,” said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett. “Just solid throughout, and a lot of different elements of the game were really solid.”
The Coyotes, who had been badly outplayed in the third period of Game 1, had their legs going and did a good job working the neutral zone, spending more time turning pucks back and getting a forecheck going against the Predators. That was something that was in short supply in Game 1.
Every time it looked like the Predators were going to get something going Sunday night, the Coyotes answered with a big goal.
“We gave the opponent enough comebacks,” said Smith, who had a relatively quiet night. “It was nice to close one out and get some big goals by key players at timely times in the game. We went down and answered and kind of took the wind out of their sails.”
They still have not trailed in this series. The Coyotes three times had single-goal leads in Game 1 before winning in overtime.
Sunday night, they took the lead eight minutes into the game when Phoenix defenceman Keith Yandle found Antoine Vermette with a smart pass to the far post, setting Vermette up for the tip into the open side behind Rinne. That was Vermette’s fourth goal of the playoffs.
A pair of goals from the Ray Whitney-Radim Vrbata-Martin Hanzal line in the first seven minutes of the second period put the Coyotes up 3-1 at the expense of the David Legwand-Gabriel Bourque-Alexander Radulov line, which had a miserable night and was a combined minus-8.
The Predators kept looking like they could get back in it. Radulov did some good, drawing a slashing penalty by Whitney and Patric Hornqvist deflected a Ryan Suter shot to make it 3-2 at 11:20, but the Coyotes pushed back with a big goal by Taylor Pyatt.
They did the same thing in the third.
After Suter made it 4-3 just 53 seconds into the third period on the power play, Doan answered back with a beautiful tip of a Derek Morris shot (after Vermette won a draw against Paul Gaustad) at 3:36 to make it 5-3.
The Predators better hope they can regroup at home. Rinne has looked ordinary in this series and Radulov, after a controversial repatriation late in the season from the Kontinental Hockey League, was a negative factor Sunday.
Gaustad, acquired at the expense of a first-round draft pick at the trade deadline, was supposed to help on draws, but lost a critical one to Vermette that led to the Doan goal.
It was also a rough night for the Klein-Roman Josi defensive pairing, who were on the ice for three Coyotes goals, underlining the fact that after the Suter-Shea Weber pairing, the Nashville blue line can be exploited.
The Coyotes talked about getting better for Game 2 and did it.
Now the Predators are faced with the same challenge and the possibility of going down 3-0 in the series.
“We’re going to have to sit down, look at it and go home,” said Nashville defenceman Hal Gill. “Maybe some home cooking will help out.”
National Hockey Writer
Sun Media/QMI Agency