Preds wake up in third period but Coyotes escape with 1-0 series lead…

2nd round banner

The Nashville Predators shook off the rust and completely dominated the Phoenix Coyotes in the final two periods of play.

Too bad the Coyotes already had a 3-2 lead.

“I thought in the first period — and even the first half of the game — I thought we were a little bit rusty and it showed,” Nashville Head Coach Barry Trotz said. “In the third, we ratcheted it up and I thought we were much better in overtime. We had lots of chances but they were able to capitalize on pucks.”

In front of 17,187 inside Jobing.com Arena, the host team beat the Preds, 4-3 in overtime. Nashville got goals from Brandon Yip, Andrei Kostitsyn and Martin Erat but, in the end, it was Ray Whitney’s overtime tally that put Nashville down 1-0 in the best-of-seven Western Conference Semifinal series.

“I think, when we took over the game and started playing in their end, we did a lot of good things,” Shea Weber said. “We just couldn’t score. That ended up biting us in the end.”

The captain speaks the truth. Combining the final period of regulation and the overtime session, the Predators outshot Phoenix 25-7, including a third period that saw the Coyotes muster just a single shot.

Pekka Rinne did all he could with the action he saw but his 20 saves weren’t enough, starting a playoff series 0-1 for just the second time in his career. Both of those 0-1 series starts have come in the second round.

At the other end of the ice, Phoenix netminder Mike Smith was spectacular. He collected 39 saves on the night, many of them being of the “difficult” variety.

The Coyotes leading goal scorer during the regular season, Radim Vrbata, was hardly a threat in the first round, tallying zero goals and managing just one assist. He kicked off the scoring in this one, however, with a perfect wrist shot, tucking the puck under Rinne’s armpit for the 1-0 lead.

Nashville would answer thanks to a fluky bounce. Defenseman Francis Bouillon went to dump it in for a line change but the puck took a weird hop off of the stanchion. Smith, expecting it to rim around the boards, had already come out to play it and Yip slammed the puck into the empty net to tie the game.

“Every time something like that happens with Smith, whether it’s a mistake playing the puck or a bad bounce, everybody thinks why would you ever let him wander out?” Phoenix Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “But I’ve set it lots of times before, that the amount of times he plays it and it helps us far outweigh the odd time you get a bad break. That’s a huge strength of his, and sometimes that happens.”

In the middle frame, former Columbus Blue Jacket blueliner Rostislav Klesla bagged his second career post season goal (both coming this year) on a fluky bounce that went Phoenix’s way. In an effort to take away the pass, rookie defenseman Roman Josi went down. Klesla’s pass slid off of Josi and into the net to make it 2-1, Phoenix.

The Predators would, once again, answer. After Smith made a great glove save off of the stick of Patric Hornqvist, Kostitsyn got his stick on the loose rebound to make it 2-2.

Things would not remain that way headed into the intermission, however. In an ill-timed decision, Josi decided to pinch but fumbled the puck along the boards. To make matters worse, Kostitsyn toe-picked while trying to get back on defense and the Coyotes broke up ice. Kevin Klein did what he needed to do while defending the 2-on-1: he took away the pass, leaving the shooter for the goaltender. The ultra-talented Mikkel Boedker slammed on the breaks at the top of the crease and somehow wristed a laser in the only daylight there was, putting his team up 3-2 headed into the locker room.

After the second intermission, the Preds poured it on.

“Spending over five minutes of the third on the penalty kill is not a recipe of success to start, after that they cranked up the desperation,” Tippett said.

Smith was at his best as well. Early in the frame, the Kingston, Ontario native made a mesmerizing glove save on Bouillon from point-blank range. Later, he denied Hornqvist in much the same fashion.

The Preds finally got the tying goal past him when Erat pounced on a rebound while on the power play. A bomb by Ryan Suter resulted in a juicy rebound amidst the chaos in front of Smith. Erat went un-checked and put it in the back of a wide open net to make the game 3-3 and force overtime.

Nashville controlled the play once again in the extra session but it was “The Wizard,” Ray Whitney, who found the twine first, giving the Pacific Division Champions their first second round victory in franchise history. Sergei Kostitsyn, still fuming from an alleged high-stick catching him in the face on his previous shift (it was actually the puck that hit him), fired the puck down the ice needlessly resulting in an icing. On the ensuing face-off in the Predators zone, Martin Hanzal chipped the puck over to Whitney, who got behind Weber, and deposited the puck into the back of the net for the winner.

Despite the loss, it was easy to see how, if the Predators play to their potential, they should have very little trouble disposing of the Coyotes. Sure, it may take six or seven games but, at the end of the day, Nashville is superior. But again, only if they play a full 60 minutes at their best, like they did in third period and overtime.

Game two is Sunday night in Glendale, Arizona. Puck drops at 7:00pm Central.

ALL QUOTES courtesy of the Phoenix Coyotes media relations staff.