Sunday, April 29, 2012
Coyotes turning up the heat
By Pierre LeBrun ESPN.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Phoenix Coyotes know the law of averages.
Stealing three games in a row in the NHL playoffs? Not very likely.
And they made sure not to test that theory Sunday night with their best effort of the postseason, fully deserving this time of a 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators to go up 2-0 in their second-round series.
"It was a much better game for us,'' said Coyotes winger Taylor Pyatt, author of the game-winning goal. "We looked a lot more confident with the puck, a lot more poised. It was a real solid effort, all-around.''
They weren't outshot. They didn't have to rely on the heroics of netminder Mike Smith.
They just went out and plain beat the Predators in almost every facet, displaying more cohesion and urgency in their game.
You see, it was the Coyotes and not the Predators who were fretting the most after Friday night's 4-3 overtime win by Phoenix. Outshot 25-7 over the final 34-plus minutes, the Coyotes knew they stole one in Game 1. Just like they got away with robbery last Monday night in Chicago when they were outshot 28-8 through 40 minutes but somehow left town with a series-clinching victory.
The Coyotes needed to step it up, or else.
"Absolutely," Pyatt said. "The last couple of games, we felt like Mike Smith really stole it for us. As a group we all knew we could be better and we just wanted to come out and have a real solid first period, be real physical and get more shots. We were able to do that and it was a big confidence-booster for us as a group.''
Coach Dave Tippett knew the rope-a-dope trend had to stop if his team actually had any realistic shot at winning another playoff series.
He got his wish Sunday night. The Coyotes dominated long stretches, put the Predators on their heels and spent more quality time in the offensive zone. And they outshot Nashville 39-33, the most shots in any game for the Coyotes in these playoffs.
"Right through our lineup, we really had a concerted push. I don't think there was any weak links," Tippett said.
"I would say this was the best 60 minutes we've played in the playoffs, for sure."
Best part for Phoenix: Smith was able to be human in allowing three goals and the Coyotes still won.
"We're more satisfied with the way we played,'' said Smith, who stopped 30 shots. "We feel like we deserved to win that one. The other night in the third period we kind of had a collapse and hung on to win in overtime. Tonight was more our style of hockey and the way we're capable of playing. We raised the bar for ourselves."
For the Predators, meanwhile, it's a surprising turn of events. Most people picked them to win this series, and obviously they still can, but they looked a little rattled by the third period Sunday night, frustrated at what was happening around them.
"We didn't have as many guys bring their 'A' game tonight and you can't have that this time of year,'' Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "Too many turnovers, big-time momentum goals [against], that type of thing. A couple of odd-man rushes where we went offside. That's just backchecking for the other team. That's just not detailed enough. Right now we're not as detailed as we were in the first series."
The Predators have allowed nine goals in two games. I repeat, nine goals in two games.
"We're not committed enough," captain Shea Weber said. "We're committed on offense, but on defense, that's not the case. We've got to change that."
Trotz didn't mice words when sizing up a defense corps that is supposed to be the backbone of this team.
"I don't think our defense corps has played well at all in this series," the Preds coach said. "They've been real light. Five-on-five, how many times are they standing beside one of their guys and their guys are whacking pucks in the net? I don't see that on the other side right now. They're doing a good job in the slot area and we're not doing a good enough job. In the first series against Detroit, we did an excellent job boxing out, tying up sticks and all that. We haven't done a good enough job."
Up front, Alexander Radulov, playing with David Legwand and Gabriel Bourque, had a brutal night, going minus-3 and was next to useless.
"His line has to get going," Trotz said. "They were real good in the last series, especially in Game 5, they were dominant. Tonight, there was group of five guys that were on the ice for all three goals in the second period. That wasn't good enough.''
Now we find out about the guts of this Predators team. This is the deepest and most talented Nashville squad in franchise history. GM David Poile added Radulov, Andrei Kostitsyn, Hal Gill and Paul Gaustad to the roster in the second half.
With Ryan Suter and Shea Weber needing new contracts, there's that make-or-break feeling about this franchise.
Now, as they always say, a series isn't truly a series until games are played in both rinks. So the Predators certainly have time to respond. But the pressure is on. They've never trailed in the playoffs, let alone two games down. Now we find out what they're made of. Starting Wednesday night in Nashville.
"You have to fight through the adversity," Trotz said. "You have to have that short-term memory. We have our backs against the wall right now going home, but the good thing is we're going home and we've been pretty good there. We just have to get our game in order and get it to 2-1 and go from there."