GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 27: Ray Whitney #13 of the Phoenix Coyotes celebrates after scoring the game winning overtime goal past goaltender Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on April 27, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Predators 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Well, the respite from OT in the clinching game of the Blackhawks series was short lived for the Phoenix Coyotes, who reverted to their past habits in this postseason run allowing a late goal in the third and pushing the game into overtime for the sixth time in seven games, before beating the Nashville Predators 4-3 on a goal from the Wizard, Ray Whitney. I'm all for free hockey and getting my money's worth, but this is getting a bit hard on the heart 'Yotes...feel free to beat the Preds in regulation going forward, ok.
This was certainly not the game that most pundits expected to see heading into this series with seven combined goals being scored, but it was a good testament to how hard fought the games will be regardless of the elevated goal totals. Through 40 minutes, the stats were remarkably similar before everything got skewed as the Coyotes collapsed into a defensive shell (or Nashville shook off its rust, depending on the story you are trying to tell).
The story of the game (if you want to focus on one single element) was the Coyotes domination of the faceoff circle. For the entire game they went 46-32 in the dot, but it was much worse earlier in the game. On the game winning OT goal, Martin Hanzal won the faceoff stepping through the Nashville center before feeding a pass to a wide open Ray Whitney in front of the net. Whitney corralled the bouncing puck and poked it past Pekka Rinne, who had a fairly rough outing in net, all things told.
Let's just do the rest in bullet point format:
- The Coyotes first power play resulted in the first goal of the game from Radim Vrbata, who got off the schneide on a sick wrister right under the cross bar. Rinne was in pretty good position, but Vrbata had enough time and space to fire a laser into a very small opening.
- As good as the first power play was, credit Nashville coach Barry Trotz who made a key adjustment in the Preds' PK approach and did more to challenge the puck carrier for the Coyotes into the zone on the second and third man advantage chances. When the Coyotes get in the zone on the power play, they are decently effective. When they are challenged as they were by the Preds later in the game, it's just a hot mess.
- The first Preds goal is just a ridiculously unlucky fluky bounce. Credit Brandon Yip for charging hard to the net and beating Keith Yandle to that puck, but Francois Boullion can fire 100 pucks into that corner and only 2 or 3 are going to take that hop for him.
- On the second goal, the Coyotes got a bit lucky as Rostislav Klesla's centering pass was blocked right back to him by Kevin Klein and Rinne was already sliding across and had no chance to get back in position. Not quite as lucky as the Preds' goal, but lucky.
- Nashville evened it up by crashing the net and poking a rebound through Mike Smith. It looked from where I was sitting that Smith had control of that puck and the ref was about to blow the whistle, but replays showed that it was always sort of floating around.
- Mikkel Boedker made a great play on the third goal and is feeling it right now in these playoffs - he had a few other great chances where he just missed throughout the game. He looked like the best Coyotes forward on the ice.
- Too many penalties on the Coyotes and they got burned on a fairly iffy call on Boyd Gordon. Credit to Patric Hornqvist and Martin Erat for crashing the net hard and getting that rebound past Smith to tie the game.
- Predators outshot the Coyotes 25-7 in the third period and OT. Part of this was definitely the Predators finding their legs and shaking off some rust. Part of it was also the desperation inherent in trailing by a goal in the third period. I think a lot of it goes to the Coyotes simply collapsing into a defensive shell and hoping that Smith could just stone wall them to a victory. I'd much prefer the Coyotes come out aggressively like they did against the Hawks in Game 6 and look to expand on the lead then just try to hold on. Hopefully, Tip will have them moving in that direction for next game.
1. Mikkel Boedker - really impressed me with his jump and seemed to be one of the only guys trying to bring the puck up the ice and pressure the Preds in the third.
2. Ray Whitney - OT game winner, assist on the Vrbata goal and also seemed much more himself than he had all first series; prime line was excellent as a whole tonight.
3. Mike Smith - another 40+ shots turned his way and he was able to turn aside 39 of them...he's the man.
Comment of the Night:
WHAT IS A SMITH
We're right back at it on Sunday night at 5:00 PM in Glendale for Game 2. I'd expect Nashville to come out with a lot more jump and the Coyotes are going to have to weather a bit of that storm early. Continue attacking and just keep everything the same. Crowd was electric last night despite the short notice, early start time, and terrible traffic getting to the west side (a very impressive whiteout in the stands) and I expect it to be even better Sunday - team will feed off of that all night.
For the Nashville perspective, check out our friends at On the Forecheck.