NASHVILLE -- Phoenix coach Dave Tippett thought his team was a couple of mistakes away from stealing a road win in this series in Game 3. There were few glaring gaffes in Game 4, and Tippett's grabbed a precious victory and control of this Western Conference Semifinal series Friday night at Bridgestone Arena.
Captain Shane Doan scored in the first period and goaltender Mike Smith made 25 saves in a 1-0 victory to give the Coyotes a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. The Coyotes can advance to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history by winning Game 5 at home on Monday night (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
The Coyotes didn't make a lot of great plays -- but unlike Game 3, they made few mistakes.
"We talked about how they were going to push hard tonight and we had to be better," Doan said. "We were better for the most part. There were a couple times where they pushed back, but we were better overall. We were OK last game, but OK doesn't win in the playoffs and we knew had to find a way to win."
The Predators, playing for a second game without Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn (this time as healthy scratches), will rue this loss as a missed opportunity because of all the fantastic chances they had against Smith on which the goalie didn't even have to make a save -- especially during a dominant second period.
"They're such a good -- their style, their defensive style, just like us," Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter said. "Their goalie was phenomenal tonight. It was definitely the toughest game to get anything going."
Phoenix earned a deserved lead with a strong opening 20 minutes. Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne turned aside a couple of great chances earlier in the period, but Doan knocked Hal Gill off the puck along the right wall, collected a pass from Antoine Vermette and skated into the slot before backhanding a shot off Nashville defenseman Roman Josi's stick and into the net at 14:25.
It was Doan's third goal of this postseason, and it came with a quartet of Predators defenders in his vicinity -- but no one in particular marking him.
One game after affording the Predators a two-goal lead with a mistake-filled flurry in the first period, the Coyotes were much better in the opening 20 minutes Friday night. They held Nashville to just two shots in the first 17:47 of the period and withstood a pair of power-play chances with little stress on Smith.
Nashville controlled play in the second period, desperately pushing for an equalizer, but the Predators couldn't finish a handful of glorious chances. The Predators won 14 of 18 faceoffs in the period and used the extra possession time to create 24 shot attempts -- twice as many as they had in the opening period.
Patric Hornqvist had three of the best chances, but didn't get any of them on net. He hit the post from the left wing, then chunked a shot over the crossbar from the slot after Smith had played the puck to him and gone down to the ice. Later he pushed a tap-in wide of the right post after a pretty pass from David Legwand. He had five of the team's 10 missed shots in the period.
"We didn't give them much," Smith said. "We kept them to the outside. When they did get opportunities, we had stick on puck, we had guys dropping down to block shots. My D were tremendous tonight. They've been good all season long, all playoff long, but this is one of the better games they've played in front of me. It was nice to see."
Phoenix struggled to hold leads against the Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round of this postseason, but the Coyotes clamped down on the Predators in the final 20 minutes. Nashville had 10 shots on net, but few dangerous chances to score despite a full period of desperation.
"I think we had the puck a little bit more," Doan said of the difference between this contest and ones with leads blown. "I think with about a minute left [Martin Hanzal], [Radim Vrbata] and [Ray Whitney] had the puck down in their end and holding onto it trying to make a play. We're slow learners, but hopefully we're learning our lesson."
The Predators thought they had scored a goal with 7:12 remaining after a wild scramble in front of Smith during a power play, but it was immediately waived off and referee Dan O'Halloran ruled that he had blown the whistle before the puck crossed the goal line.
Nashville had another powerless night with the man advantage, going scoreless on three chances. The Predators have not scored a power-play goal in 23 tries at Bridgestone Arena in the 2012 playoffs.
Colin Wilson, who was a healthy scratch at the start of this postseason, had a strong effort for the Predators and earned a promotion to the top line in the second half of the third period, but even giving his most dangerous forward to that point more ice time didn't help Trotz's club solve Smith.
Phoenix led Chicago 3-1 in the first round, but was unable to finish off the Blackhawks at Jobing.com Arena in Game 5. They will have a second chance Monday night.
"Just keep flying under the radar," Smith said about being one win from the conference finals. "That's a nice way to go about it. We've just got to stick with what we're doing, not get too far ahead of ourselves and worry about getting the next one."
Added Trotz: "Plain and simple is, we've got to win a hockey game. That focus can't go any further than that. We're going to have to win a hockey game and it is going to have to be in Phoenix."
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