Commentary

Goalie duel bites the dust in Game 1

Updated: April 28, 2012, 2:27 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- About that defensive series we were all promising you.

Never mind!

Well, at least for one night.

Ray Whitney's overtime goal capped a wild 4-3 win for the Phoenix Coyotes over the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of their second-round series Friday night. Anyone taking the over on their wager was in the clear halfway through the game.

Not the kind of game anyone was expecting.

"Maybe uncharacteristic how many goals there were," said Whitney, who ended things 14:04 into overtime. "I would certainly think from now on out it would be back to what we were."

The Predators and Coyotes are proud members of that Western Conference quartet with St. Louis and Los Angeles that, you know, took out those offensively geared clubs in Detroit, Chicago, San Jose and Vancouver in the first round.

With Mike Smith and Pekka Rinne in opposing nets, both of whom entered the second round with identical 1.81 goals-against averages and coming off heroic efforts in the first round, one figured 1-0 or 2-1 might be the score du jour in this series.

Not on this jour.

Odds are we'll get back to a more low-scoring series when Game 2 comes around Sunday here at Jobing.com Arena. But on this night, the only game on the docket in the NHL to open the second round, the Preds and Coyotes played an atypical game that had some breakdowns, missed assignments, cheating by some forwards and the goalies giving up more than their usual share of goals.

"It was a little bit of a different game," said Preds coach Barry Trotz.

Mind you, Smith once again was fantastic in net for Phoenix, especially in the third period and overtime, when the Coyotes were outshot 25-7.

"As the game went on, they started to turn it up a little bit," Smith said of the Predators. "We spent more time in our end than we'd like. But once again, the resilient Coyotes found a way to get a win. That's the most important thing.''

Blackhawks fans have seen this movie before, that's for sure. Somehow the Coyotes closed out the Hawks in Game 6 on Monday night despite being outshot 28-8 through the opening 40 minutes.

On this night, the Coyotes were outshot 16-1 in the third period but still survived, once again thanks to Smith.

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett was joking after Game 6 against Chicago that the hockey gods were smiling down on them. Turns out the hockey gods stuck around another game.

That rope-a-dope approach has worked two straight games. But it's nothing you can survive on.

"No, I'm not a big fan of that rope-a-dope thing," said Tippett. "I'd like to see us compete harder and make better plays. ...

"Skill and compete are imperative in this game, especially at this level in the playoffs, and our skill and compete were nonexistent in the third period," added Tippett. "Just not good enough, and we're fortunate to win in overtime."

It's uncanny in reading the body language and demeanor of both coaches after the game.

Tippett seemed far more concerned than his counterpart, Trotz. And that might be that despite the loss, the Predators coach knows that once it shook off the rust of a one-week layoff, his team steamrolled the Coyotes over the final 34-plus minutes -- except where it mattered, in the final score.

"I thought in the third period we ratcheted up and had a lot of chances," said Trotz. "I know we're going to get better as the series goes on. We've got another level in our game."

Fact is, the Predators won't come out and say it, but they realized by the end of Friday night that they can take this series if they play the way they did in the second half. Just chalk up the opening half of the game to rust.

"I think we were a little bit out of sync, did some things that were a bit uncharacteristic," said veteran Preds blueliner Hal Gill. "We had some time off, and I think that first period we had to break into it a bit. Down the stretch we played really well, we took it to them, we had a lot of good chances. It's a tough break at the end, but that happens. It's playoff hockey and that's why you play seven."

It was just that kind of bizarre night. Two defensive teams lost their way, the winning team found little in its game it liked and the losing team gained confidence from an overtime loss.

Back to normalcy on Sunday.