GLENDALE, Ariz. – Far from the typical Nashville-Phoenix slugfest, Monday's game at Jobing.com Arena was more like a track meet – with the teams equally splitting eight goals, 70 shots and plenty of odd-man scoring chances.
But in the end, the Coyotes couldn't come up with the big goal they needed and Pekka Rinne came up with the big saves late. Nashville's Andrei Kostitsyn had the only successful shootout attempt as the Predators survived blowing three leads – including a two-goal cushion in the third period – to hold on for a 5-4 win.
Rinne had 31 saves in regulation and stopped Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata and Mikkel Boedker in the shootout to collect his NHL-leading 39th win. The Predators, who had lost three shootouts in a row, improved to 89 points and crept within two points of the idle Detroit Red Wings for fourth place in the Western Conference.
"It's disappointing at this point in the season to give up two late goals like that, but we didn't get rattled and stayed focused and Andrei made a great move in the shootout," Rinne said. "There were a lot of odd-man rushes and some crazy goals tonight and you are frustrated. But after the game you win and wind up with two points and it doesn't matter. You're happy."
Nashville defenseman Francis Bouillon broke an 87-game scoring drought and Craig Smith -- a healthy scratch the last two games -- snapped a 2-2 tie with goals over a 4:10 span of the second and third periods to give Nashville a 4-2 lead. But the Coyotes stormed back on goals by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Raffi Torres -- his 13th of the season and third in three games -- to pull even and salvage a point in the standings.
Martin Erat and Mike Fisher also scored for Nashville, while Daymond Langkow and Keith Yandle scored second-period goals for the Coyotes. The road team has now won each of the last five meetings in this series that ended with two wins aside this year.
Mike Smith also made 31 saves in regulation and overtime in a tough loss for Phoenix, who remain in seventh place but saw both Colorado and San Jose gain a point with victories. The Coyotes now head out on a challenging four-game road trip beginning Wednesday night in Vancouver (with stops in Calgary, Edmonton and Dallas) with a 1-4-2 record in the last seven games that has them hanging onto a playoff spot by their fingernails.
"It shows the courage of our team: We don't quit and we don't give up," Yandle said. "We could have been better. We probably could have won that game. Little mistakes here and there cost us."
But Phoenix coach Dave Tippett saw them more as large, glaring errors that shouldn't be cropping up 69 games into a season. Players not staying between their man and the goal. Poor passes. No coverage for teammates jumping up in plays.
"We had to rally (three times) because we were making poor mistakes," he said. "We've got to get these mistakes taken care of. They can't happen this time of year and they're mistakes by veteran players, which is even more frustrating.
"I give our guys full credit for coming back, digging in and finding a way to get a point. But we have to play tight hockey and not give away chances like we did tonight."
Nashville, now 29-3-3 when scoring first this season, broke a scoreless tie late in the opening period – just after Torres pinged a shot off the goal post with Rinne down and out. Erat used a Sergei Kostitsyn drop pass and screen for a shot that Smith got a chunk of, but couldn't stop with 28.1 seconds left. It was the 17th goal for Erat, who added two assists to give him a team-best 53 points.
The Coyotes have now been outscored 11-1 in the first period of their last seven games.
Phoenix needed less than a minute of the second period to get even. Ekman-Larsson held in a Torres pass at the point, spun off the boards and let go a wrist shot that Langkow re-directed past Rinne at the 49-second mark. Langkow's ninth goal was just his second in the last 23 games.
Phoenix had a chance to go in front, but wound up behind seconds later. Yandle broke in alone but was stoned by an acrobatic pad save by Rinne, sending Nashville the other way. Sergei Kostitsyn skated in and was stopped by the glove of a sprawling Smith, but he ran down the rebound and found Fisher with a centering pass at the near post for the tip-in at 11:04.
Yandle got a shot at redemption. On the rush, Antoine Vermette set up him with a drop pass and he faked an initial shot before cruising between the circles and picking the far top corner at 14:23 for his 10th goal and second in the last three games.
But the Coyotes were again bitten by a late-period goal – this one 4-on-4, but from an unlikely source. With Sergei Kostitsyn and Whitney in the box for separate offenses, Bouillon put a shot on net and skated in untouched to chop the rebound over Smith at 18:26. Bouillon's last goal came 87 games ago, on Nov. 3, 2010 – also against the Coyotes.
"I've had a few opportunities to score this year, but to score a big goal in a big victory is always nice," he said. "It was a hard game against a hard team. We knew it would be that way."
Nashville took its only two-goal lead of the game 2:36 into the third when Craig Smith snuck behind Phoenix defenseman Michael Stone, took a long pass from Paul Gaustad and broke in alone. He deked Smith with the forehand before dumping in a backhander for his 13th goal – but just his second in the last 17 games.
But Phoenix came back once more. Another Ekman-Larsson shot through traffic weaved its way past the screened out Rinne with 12:33 left in regulation. And with 4:59 left, in a wild scramble in the Nashville crease, Torres nudged the puck just across the goal line to pull Phoenix even for a third time.