NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Phoenix Coyotes are on the brink of their first Western Conference finals thanks to their stingy goalie and the captain who traveled with the franchise from Winnipeg to the desert.
Captain Shane Doan scored in the first period, Mike Smith made 25 saves and the Coyotes beat the Nashville Predators 1-0 on Friday night to grab a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series. It was the first win in the month of May in the franchise's NHL history, and Phoenix can advance with a victory in Game 5 on Monday night in Arizona.
"To win like this is exciting because our goaltender's so good, and we know that we go as far as he takes us," Doan said. "He's been unbelievable in this and really solidifies how important he is and how good he is."
Now the Coyotes, owned by the NHL, are 3-1 for the second straight series heading back home with the chance to advance. Chicago won Game 5 to put off elimination for a game, but Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said his message will not change.
"It's going to be the same kind of game," Tippett said. "Very little space, very little advantages and you're going to have to compete hard and hopefully we can find a way to win a game."
The Predators played without forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn for the second straight game, this time the decision by coach Barry Trotz to stick with the lineup that won 2-0 on Wednesday night. Trotz said he refuses to second-guess his decision, though lineup changes are likely.
"Plain and simple, we've got to win a hockey game," Trotz said. "That focus can't go any farther than that. Winning a hockey game, and it's going to have to be in Phoenix. I know when you're down in a series 3-0, the numbers don't look good. At 3-1, a number of teams have come back."
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The Predators thought they tied it with 7:12 remaining. But officials waved off the power-play goal with the official explanation that a whistle blew before the puck crossed the line. Trotz said he didn't get an explanation with officials telling captain Shea Weber a different reason.
"They said that (Patric) Hornqvist pushed the goaltender into the net. If you look at it, I don't buy that," Trotz said.
The Predators wound up outshooting Phoenix 25-24, but they had chances with the net open they simply missed with Radulov and Kostitsyn on the sideline.
Smith, the low-budget replacement for Ilya Bryzgalov after the Russian left the desert for a big contract with Philadelphia, credited his teammates with pressuring the Predators into making some bad shots.
"We were so aggressive," Smith said. "We didn't give them much, kept them to the outside and when they did get opportunities we had stick on puck. We had guys lying down blocking shots. My D was tremendous tonight. They have been good all playoffs long, but this is one of the better games they've played in front of me."
Radulov leads Nashville with a team-high six points in the postseason, and Kostitsyn is tied for the team lead with three goals. Fans cheered the announcement that the two were scratched after they were suspended for Game 3 for an apparent curfew violation last weekend in Arizona.
Nashville had plenty of chances, outshooting Phoenix 10-5 in the third. The Predators even got a power play at 11:34 when Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris cleared the puck over the glass and went to the box. The Predators had a scrum in front of the net after Mike Fisher threw the puck at the net, but the official behind the net immediately waved no goal.
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