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The Phoenix Coyotes didn't exactly impose their will tonight on the Nashville Predators, but they did play a game that was exactly what was needed in the situation. Mike Smith recorded his seventh shutout following a loss this season, as the Coyotes take a very impressive 3-1 lead in the best of seven series with a chance to close it out on Monday night in Glendale. Shane Doan had the only goal for the Coyotes on a deflected puck that got past Pekka Rinne.
It was a very solid defensive effort by the Coyotes in responding to the game 3 turnovers and lapses. Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson in particular had real strong games to break up Nashville rushes and get the puck out of the defensive zone. When shots got through, Smith was more than capable of living up to the challenge.
Bullet Point Notes:
- There was a hard hit by Rostislav Klesla on Matt Halischuk midway through the first where Halischuk went hard into the side boards right at the Coyotes bench. Klesla got 2 minutes for boarding, but folks are already talking about potential supplemental discipline. It's a possibility, but with Halischuk popping right back up, I'd be surprised if he gets more than a fine here.
- Shortly after the hit, with the Coyotes controlling play significantly, Paul Gaustad picked a fight with Kyle Chipchura off a faceoff. Mostly a lot of hugs, but a few decent hits for each guy...nothing too special.
- Coyotes continued to play strong on the penalty kill especially when it counts. For a Nashville team that relies heavily on power play goals, they've yet to score one on home ice in the playoffs. Good job by the 'yotes to keep them off the board.
- The Predators definitely took the approach of crashing everything into Mike Smith with players, sticks, gloves, you name it heading into the crease. Smith seemed slightly frustrated by the end of the game, but he was not rattled enough to phase his game and keep him from getting the shutout.
- In the third period, Nashville thought they had finally solved Smith, but the play was blown dead as Mike Fisher crashed into Smith and pushed him and the puck into the net. The referee clearly lost track of the puck (for good reason), but in his postgame interview that was with Luke Lapinski, the referee also told Smith that he was blowing it dead because Smith had no chance to play the puck. Nice to see that call made on the Coyotes behalf for once when it hasn't all season (think Jason LaBarbera against Columbus with Dorsett sitting on top of him). I'm sure Nashville fans were a bit upset, but I think this was absolutely the right call.
Five For Winning
1. Score Early. Pekka Rinne certainly found a groove last game and the Coyotes want to bring him right back down to Earth like they did the first two games. Plus, an early goal might quiet the crowd a bit which is always nice. A goal in the first 5 minutes of this game would be big for the Coyotes. It wasn't exactly early, but Shane Doan got them ahead in the first and they held it from there...crowd tried to get involved, but it wasn't enough.
2. Defensive Support. On both Nashville goals, a Nashville player was left wide open in the slot leading to the goal. Now, the turnovers that gift-wrapped both goals accounts for some of that, but the Coyotes need to be playing defense-first hockey as always. Very good all around for the Coyotes d-men tonight.
3. Get the Power Play Clicking. Despite not scoring a goal on the 5-on-3 advantage, the Coyotes had a few good looks and Rinne made some good saves. But in the playoffs, special teams play can be all the difference in the world and the 'Yotes power play in this second round has not been nearly as good as it was against Chicago. Didn't score a goal, but played pretty well and had some nice shots.
4. Bring the Pressure. The Coyotes forecheck did not look nearly as effective last game as the first two and it forced the Coyotes to chase the game in their own zone far too often. Definitely picked it up tonight with the forecheck and while it wasn't pushing the pace to the extent that I'd like, it got the job done.
5. Win the Dot. Since the first game of the series, the faceoffs have been pretty even with Nashville taking the advantage in both games 2 and 3. Winning faceoffs help sustain pressure and set up your offense, something that was lacking for the Coyotes in game 3. Coyotes didn't win the faceoffs, losing 30-29, but Boyd Gordon won the important draws late in the game.
1. Mike Smith - duh
2. Shane Doan - duh
3. Boyd Gordon - he was in beast mode towards the end of the game winning tons of faceoffs and clearing the zone...great game for Boyd.
Comment of the Night
Smitty Smitty Smitty
The Desert Dogs can make their first ever trip into the Conference Finals with a win on home ice Monday night...expect to see Andrei Kostitsyn back in the lineup to bring some more offensive pressure...should be a lot of fun in front of a fired up whiteout crowd.
For the Nashville perspective, check out our friends at On the Forecheck.