Coyotes top Preds to take 2-0 lead
The Phoenix Coyotes didn’t need any overtime theatrics or miracle saves from Mike Smith.
With five players scoring in a balanced, dominant performance Sunday night, the Coyotes beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series.
Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Antoine Vermette and Martin Hanzal each had a goal and an assist, and Taylor Pyatt also scored.
”This is the best 60 minutes we’ve played in the playoffs, for sure,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. ”Just solid throughout.”
Ryan Suter, Patric Hornqvist and Andrei Kostitsyn scored for the Predators.
Phoenix scored three times on 19 second-period shots. The Coyotes built a two-goal lead early in the second period. Nashville twice cut it to one only to see Phoenix quickly respond.
The Coyotes avoided overtime for only the second time in eight playoff games.
”Tonight was more Coyotes-style hockey, the way we are capable of playing,” Smith said. ”We just raised the bar for ourselves.”
The best-of-seven series shifts to Nashville for Game 3 on Wednesday night.
Keith Yandle had two assists for Phoenix. Ray Whitney, who scored in overtime in Phoenix’s 4-3 victory in Game 1 on Friday night, had one.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said his team has been outscored 8-3 in 5-on-5 situations.
”Look at a lot of the goals, there’s people staring at the puck and not taking anybody,” he said, ”and that’s not going to win you anything.”
After being outshot 42-24 in Game 1, the Coyotes had a playoff-high 39 shots to Nashville’s 33 in Game 2. The Coyotes knew how fortunate they were to escape with that Game 1 victory and weren’t about to have a repeat performance.
”This is the way we want to play,” Vrbata said. ”This is the way we think we will be successful.”
With its offensive production, Phoenix didn’t need to lean on Smith’s heroics quite so much.
”Tonight we didn’t count on him completely,” Doan said. ”We actually made it so he had a little bit of breathing room instead of having to be perfect.”
Smith had 30 saves to 34 for Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.
”I have to be better, no question, but also we have to be better as a team,” Rinne said. ”That always goes hand and hand. We just have to bear down. We have scored enough goals to win hockey games and we’re just giving up too many goals right now.”
Trotz said Rinne has ”been OK. The team in front of him hasn’t.”
The Coyotes, in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the franchise moved from Winnipeg in 1996, built a 3-1 lead with goals by Hanzal and Vrbata early in the second period.
The Predators cut it to 3-2 when Hornqvist redirected Suter’s shot into the net with 5 seconds left on a power play with 8:40 left in the second.
Thirty seconds later, Rinne deflected Doan’s shot, but the puck bounced right to Pyatt, who scored to make it 4-2.
Again, Nashville came back.
The Predators took advantage of a 4-on-3 situation to score on Suter’s shot from the left circle 53 seconds into the third period to cut the Coyotes’ lead to 4-3.
Just 2:43 later, Phoenix responded. The Coyotes won a faceoff in the Nashville end, Vermette took a shot and Doan deflected it in to make it 5-3 with 16:24 remaining.
For the start, Phoenix mounted offensive pressure, breaking through with Vermette’s goal with 11:28 left in the opening period. Mikkel Boedker controlled the puck, then got it to Yandle, who fired a pass from the right circle in front of the net, where Vermette tapped it in for his team-high fifth goal of the playoffs.
Nashville tied it late in the period after a brilliant assist from Kevin Klein, who, as he was knocked to the ice by Adrian Aucoin, extended his stick to flip the puck to Kostitsyn on a breakaway. Kostitsyn slipped the puck past Smith’s right into the net with 2:47 remaining.
Phoenix took the lead for good at lead 2-1 3:47 into the second period with another nice assist. This time, Vrbata brought the puck down the center of the ice, and took it behind the Nashville net. From there, he passed it into the crease where Hanzal got a stick on it and the puck slipped between Rinne’s legs for the score.
Vrbata, Phoenix’s leading goal scorer in the regular season, got his second of the playoffs, scoring after Whitney’s shot was deflected far in front of the net to make it 3-1 7:05 into the second period.
”We didn’t have as many guys I thought bring their A game tonight,” Trotz said, ”and you can’t have that this time of year.”
Notes: Nashville had two penalty kills. … The Coyotes acquired Vermette from Columbus on Feb. 22 for a pair of draft picks and a minor league goaltender. … Phoenix D Rostislav Klesla took a puck to the face 33 seconds into the game and was bleeding profusely as he left the ice. He returned wearing a jaw guard late in the second period. … The Arizona Republic reports that former San Jose Sharks President Greg Jamison continues in talks with the city of Glendale over a lease agreement to pave the way for his purchase of the Coyotes, but stumbling blocks remain. …. The crowd was announced as a sellout of 17,217. … Nashville was 2-0 on the road in its first-round victory over Detroit.