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Coyotes know big guns have to produce vs. Nashville

by Jerry Brown /

GLENDALE, Ariz.Radim Vrbata, who led the Phoenix Coyotes with 35 goals this season, had one point – an assist – in six playoff games against the high-scoring Chicago Blackhawks.

That was one more point than a banged-up Lauri Korpikoski had. Shane Doan and Ray Whitney, who combined for 46 goals during the regular season, managed one each.


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Phoenix’s top four goal-scorers this season combined for just two goals against the Blackhawks. But thanks to strong series from Antoine Vermette and Keith Yandle, yeomen efforts from foot soldiers like Mikkel Boedker, Gilbert Brule and Rostislav Klesla -- and a Herculean one by goalie Mike Smith -- the Coyotes beat Chicago in six games and the franchise has reached the second round of the playoffs for only the third time in the last 30 years.

But if the Coyotes are going to beat the Nashville Predators and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time ever, Phoenix’s big guns are going to need to start firing when the series begins Friday night at Arena.

"We definitely think there is another level we need to get to," said Doan, who had a huge goal in Game 4 but managed only two points against Chicago. "You look at the forwards up front and we got unbelievable contributions from everyone who stepped up and did their jobs. But nobody really went beyond what you expect of them.

"Now we need guys to go beyond what you expect of them. That’s what the playoffs are all about. And you can look directly at myself and Ray and (Vrbata) and Marty (Hanzal). (Vermette) had a great series, but there’s a group of guys that need to step up for us to move on."

Although they have leaned on him all season, it would be hard to expect Smith, who allowed just 12 goals on 241 shots and frustrated the Blackhawks into submission, to top or even continue to be that airtight as the postseason continues. Asking Boedker to score a pair of overtime game-winners or Klesla to collect three points in a game – something he did for the second time in his career in Game 3 – or for Brule to score in back-to-back games would be an equally tall order.

The Coyotes were shorthanded all during the series. Injuries to Vrbata in Game 1, Hanzal and Korpikoski in Game 2, Klesla and Michal Rozsival in Game 6 and a season-ending suspension to Raffi Torres in Game 3 left them juggling personnel. But coach Dave Tippett said he’s hopeful all the nicked-up players will be healed up and ready for Friday – he kept the team off the ice for a second day on Wednesday and will ramp back up with a practice Thursday.

"I think the rest will do us some good," he said. "That was a long, hard series, and even though it went six games, with the five overtimes you’re taxing a lot of people. I think we’re pretty good in the injury front."

Doan said Phoenix’s go-to players will be ready to answer the bell after struggles against Chicago.

"The only way you get through a first round is with everyone doing their job." Doan said. "But to get through the next round, you need certain guys to step up and go beyond what you expect of them. Smitty did that. (Boedker) did that. The play in general … we found ways to contribute, but we think we have even more to contribute and that’s what we’re excited about."

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