GLENDALE – The Phoenix Coyotes' first-ever foray into the Western Conference Semifinals looked a lot like the formula that got them their first-ever series win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Timely goals from unlikely sources. An ugly overtime game-winner. And a whole lot of spectacular play from Mike Smith in between.
Seven games into the postseason, the Coyotes haven't been particularly happy with any of their five wins. But in the immortal words of "Bull Durham" hero Nuke LaLoosh – "Winning ... it's like, you know, better than losing?"
Seven playoffs games have produced six overtimes and four Phoenix instant wins after Ray Whitney scored his first postseason OT goal in 17 years to beat Nashville 4-3 Friday night and keep the crazy karma rolling in the desert.
|Rostislav Klesla |
"It's not exactly what we want. We have to be better in the next games," said defenseman Rostislav Klesla, who had 13 points in 65 regular-season games but now has six in seven playoff games to tie Antoine Vermette for the team lead. "But for now, whatever it takes. We've been going the extra mile.
The Coyotes were outshot 16-1 in the third period. They gave up the first five shots of overtime. They kept taking penalties, kept giving up scoring chances and had their home fans holding their breath and watching the game through their fingers.
But Smith kept stopping shots, while other chances failed to get on net at all -- and when Phoenix finally got a sliver of light in the Nashville zone, Whitney lunged for a bouncing puck and ended a playoff game for the first time since scoring in double overtime of Game 7 for San Jose to beat Calgary in the 1995 Western Conference Quarterfinals.
"It's important to get the first win and take care of your business at home because they play great in Nashville," Whitney said. "But our third periods at home have to be better. We can't let teams just come at us. We can't keep this up."
|Photo by Norm Hall |
But as long as Smith, who made 39 saves Friday and has stopped 268 of 283 shots in the postseason, keeps frustrating opponents the Coyotes have a little more time to figure things out.
One Nashville goal came from a wild carom off the glass that left him hung out to dry behind the net. Another came from a scrum in the crease that Smith appeared to have covered. But what he saw he continued to stop.
"Every time something (like the wild bounce goal) happens with Smith – whether it's a mistake playing the puck or a bad bounce – everybody thinks ‘Why would you ever let him wander that far out?'" Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "But I've said it lots of times before: The amount of times he plays that puck and it helps us far outweighs the odd time you get a bad break. That's a huge strength of his. Sometimes it happens."
But if the Coyotes keep giving up five power plays and 42 shots to Nashville and keep treating third-period leads like a live grenade, it's a matter of time before one blows up in their face.
"We have played four playoff games at home. We led in all of them and all of them wound up in overtime," Whitney said. "Sitting back isn't working. We have to change our approach before it comes back to get us."