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Coyotes one win away from Conference Finals

by Jerry Brown

The last time this franchise won a game this late into May, the 1979 Winnipeg Jets were playing the final World Hockey Association game ever – beating the Edmonton Oilers for their third Avco Cup championship before both teams were absorbed into the National Hockey League.

Only six of the current Phoenix Coyotes who beat the Nashville Predators 1-0 Friday night were even born in 1979. But this group, which now stands one win away from the Western Conference Finals, seems determined to experience the feeling of playing in June – and for a Cup much more storied than the Avco.


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Two nights after they were shut out by Nashville's Pekka Rinne in Game 3, the Coyotes and goalie Mike Smith turned the tables with an air-tight 1-0 win over the frustrated Predators who are dealing with trouble on a multitude of levels – from their roster, to their special teams to their opponent, which continues to fly under the radar and stack up postseason wins.

"We're not worried about that. We could care less," said Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle, who has come to regularly refer to himself and his teammates as The Misfits. "We all know in the locker room that we have a good group here and we have fun every day. We're not too worried about what everyone else thinks."

A lot more people are thinking about them now. For the second time in these playoffs, the Coyotes have a commanding 3-1 lead in a series with a chance to wrap it up before their home fans in Game 5. Phoenix wasn't able to close the deal against Chicago, losing in overtime in Game 5, but answered with a 4-0 win in Game 6 – taking advantage of the cushion they had built.

Shane Doan – the captain and only link on the ice to the original Jets – scored in the first period and the Coyotes nursed it all the way home to win for the 12th time in their last 14 games, dating back to a season-ending, five-game winning streak that gave them just enough to win a division title and home ice that they have used to stay ahead of the game.

The Coyotes have already tied an NHL record by blowing five third-period lead in the final 11 minutes of regulation during these playoffs. But in Game 4, they rode their paper-thin, one-goal lead to the finish and played with more confidence down the stretch. Now, they have the frustrated Predators cornered.

"We're slow learners, but hopefully we're learning our lesson," he said.

Smith, who has allowed just six goals in five postseason road games and has shutouts in two of the last three, credited a defense that blocked 10 of Nashville's first 15 shot attempts and was relentless in the Phoenix zone in Game 4.

"We pressured them to make bad shots. They got position to get shooting opportunities but we did a good job to deny those," Smith said. "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."

The Coyotes, already without the suspended Raffi Torres for the rest of the playoffs and the injured Lauri Korpikoski, might have to play without standout defenseman Rostislav Klesla in Game 5.

Klesla was called for boarding Nashville's Matt Halischuk in the first period and will have a hearing with the League on Sunday. Klesla has been outstanding in the postseason, overcoming two facial injuries to contribute two goals, six points and gobble up ice time.

It would be another slice of adversity for a team that seems to eat it for breakfast. Phoenix had a rash of injuries against the Blackhawks and never blinked. Even if the Coyotes go all the way and win the Stanley Cup, their future in Arizona isn't assured.

But it's the last thing on their minds. If Phoenix can close out the Predators with one more win and the Kings are able to finish off the St. Louis Blues – and they have four chances to do so – the Coyotes would again have home ice, this time for the right to play for the Stanley Cup.

"We're a team that doesn't get flustered over much," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "Adversity is just part of who we are. We have great leadership in the dressing room that keeps guys on the straight and narrow and we just go out there and kind of plug along and find a way to win.

"Everyone in there does their job or is more than willing to give them everything to get the job done. And when you do that, you can become a good team."

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