Coyotes cap big day with 'business-like' win
It's not an adjective that has been used historically when describing the Phoenix Coyotes.
After all, before this postseason, the Coyotes had never won a playoff series, squandering opportunities in 1997 (up 3-2 on Anaheim, lost 4-3), 1999 (up 3-1 on St. Louis, lost 4-3) and 2010 (tied 3-3, lost 4-3).
In the first round, they missed an opportunity to close out the Chicago Blackhawks on their home ice, falling in overtime and forcing a Game 6 in the Windy City.
But on the same night that the league announced tentative details to sell the franchise to former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison, the Coyotes earned the business-like description by beating the Nashville Predators 2-1 to win the series 4-1 and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
The Coyotes used a familiar formula for success: play solid defense, kill penalties, make the most of their scoring chances and, oh yeah, rely on the stellar goaltending of Mike Smith, who stopped 32 Nashville shots for his 8th playoff win.
"Coyote ugly," Smith said after the game. "That's kind of been the motto here. We've learned a lot about who we are as a group in here and every guy has contributed at some during the series and during the playoff stretch."
Smith may want to deflect a lot of the praise and credit for the series win, but others know that the 'Yotes are riding a really hot goalie right now.
"They worked hard and their goalie was unreal," Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said. "He was the difference in this series, I thought."
Rinne, a Vezina Trophy finalist, outplayed Smith in Game 3, when he stopped 32 shots in a 2-0 shutout. But other than that, it was Smith who shined brighter than any other player on the ice.
"In the playoffs, you need great goaltending, it just goes without saying," Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said. "You have great goaltending, you've got a chance every night."
And for as great as Smith was in the regular season run to the Pacific Division title, he's been even better in the postseason. The 30-year-old veteran has a sterling .948 save percentage and a goals-against average of 1.77 since the chase for Lord Stanley's Cup started.
Add on a penalty killing unit that has squelched 89.4% (34 of 38) of opponents' power plays during the playoffs, and the Coyotes are quite simply a very hard team to score on.
But with the excitement of another playoff series win coupled with the optimism of the sale announcement, this team has managed to keep a sharp focus on the task at hand.
"We're excited for this win, it means a lot to our group," captain Shane Doan said. "But it's only halfway."
The Coyotes will face the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals.
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