The Phoenix Coyotes outlasted the Nashville Predators in a game that has become a regular occurrence for the Desert Dogs, going to overtime and defeating the visiting Predators 4-3.
Phoenix was dominated in the third period and in the OT session, but managed to get a puck past Nashville goaltender for the game winner at 14:04 as Ray Whitney slipped a puck in on the backhand for the winner.
How did we get here?
As expected, special teams would play a critical role in the outcome of the game.
Phoenix tallied first in the first period as Radim Vrbata would launch a puck at Rinne that hit his shoulder and caromed under the crossbar to give the Coyotes a 1-0 lead at 7:23. Kevin Klein had put the Predators down a man when he turned the puck over at the Predators blue line and was guilty of tripping to prevent a breakaway. The potent Coyote power play went to work and made the Predators pay for their transgression.
The Predators tied the game up at 1 on a goal that was a fluke. Francis Bouillon dumped the puck into the Phoenix zone, and it appeared that it was going around the glass and behind the net. Phoenix netminder Mike Smith went behind his goal to play the puck, but the puck ricocheted off the glass and back to the slot, where Brandon Yip gathered in the puck and slapped it into the open net at 14:09 of the first period.
In the second period, the Coyotes took a 2-1 lead as Rusty Klesla was able to bury a shot off a puck that was blocked by Roman Josi. Klesla tried to slip the puck across the slot, but it was blocked by a sliding Josi. The puck came right back to Klesla and he had an open net to fire the puck as Rinne had slid across his crease to play the pass. The Coyotes score came at 3:05 of the second period.
Once again, the Predators tied the game as Andrei Kostitsyn corralled a rebound of a Patric Hornqvist shot and slipped the puck past Smith at 11:19 of the second period.
The Coyotes regained the lead at 16:27 of the second period as Mikkel Boedker continued his strong play. Boedker was able to get a puck past Rinne for his third goal of the post season and give the Coyotes a 3-2 lead. Boedker broke in on a 2 on 1 as Andrei Kostitsyn, who had rotated to the blue line for a pinching Francis Bouillon, fell and the Coyotes blue line. Kevin Klein was back on defense, and took away the pass, but Boedker dangled the puck and beat Rinne to the far post.
The third period was all Predators as they out shot the Coyotes 16-1. That offensive pressure finally paid off with Marty Erat tallying on the power play at 15:18. For Erat, this was his first goal of the post season, and it was a result of the pressure that the Predators exerted on Smith and the Coyotes defense. Boyd Gordon was in the box for holding the stick, and the Predators did a good job of moving the puck and were rewarded as Erat was able to tally.
Once again, the Coyotes were heading to overtime, familiar territory for this team. The Predators had a decided territorial advantage, and out shot the Coyotes 9-6, but it was the Coyotes that capitalized as Ray Whitney slid a backhand shot past Rinne for the game winner at 14:04 of the the OT.
For the Predators, this is a disappointing loss. They played well enough to win, but this is a series that will be decided by which team makes the fewest mistakes. Tonight, this was the Coyotes. More importantly, the Coyotes capitalized on the mistakes that the Predators made.
The Coyotes are an opportunistic team, and the Predators gave them the opportunities they needed to win this game. For the Predators, the key to winning game 2 will be eliminating some of the mistakes that victimized them in game 1 and capitalizing on the opportunities they have.
There is no doubt that Mike Smith is a good goalie, but when the Predators put pucks on net and crash, they can create scoring opportunities. They have to do that in game 2, and do it more consistently, to have success.
This will not be an easy series for either team. The first blood was drawn by the Coyotes, as they made the most of their chances.
The Predators put 42 shots on net in this game to 24 for the Coyotes. The difference was that the Coyotes made the most of their chances. The Predators did not.
That has to change for the Predators in game 2.
My three stars:
1. Mike Smith
2. Mikkel Boedker
3. Marty Erat
About the Author: A native Nashvillian that grew up with minor league hockey, I'm now a devoted Predators fan and NHL follower. I have had the privilege of allowing my children to grow up watching the Predators and seeing the joy on their face when they are at a game. By day, I am a partner in an independent investment management company in the Nashville area. I played collegiate football and graduated from the University of South Carolina and graduated from the LSU graduate School of Banking. So yes, there are real true southern hockey fans in these non-traditional markets.