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Coyotes' playoff chances hurt by Rinne, Predators

by John Manasso

NASHVILLE -- The Phoenix Coyotes no longer control their chances to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs after Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne stopped 29 shots in a 2-0 win against Phoenix on Thursday at Bridgestone Arena.

"We didn't generate enough chances to give ourselves a chance to score. Simple as that," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "First couple of periods, we generated very little on the offensive side."

With the 162nd win of his career, Rinne passed Tomas Vokoun to become the Predators' all-time leader.

Phoenix would have earned the Western Conference's second wild-card spot by winning its final three games, but the Coyotes no longer control their own fate after being blanked by Rinne and the Predators.

The Dallas Stars can eliminate Phoenix and clinch that wild-card spot by beating the St. Louis Blues on Friday. That would render the game Sunday in the season finale in Glendale, Ariz., between Dallas and Phoenix, former Pacific Division foes, meaningless.

The Coyotes find themselves in something of a helpless situation. Phoenix defenseman Michael Stone was asked if he planned to watch the Stars-Blues game Friday.

"I don't know if we'll sit down and watch it, but I'll be keeping up on what's going on," he said.

Dallas, which has 89 points to the Coyotes' 87, needs to win one of its remaining two games to qualify based on the first tiebreaker, regulation and overtime wins. The Stars have 35 to the Coyotes' 30. If Phoenix wins each of its remaining games, it will finish with 91 points.

If the Stars lose in overtime or in a shootout Friday, then the Coyotes would have to defeat the San Jose Sharks in any fashion Saturday and top the Stars in regulation Sunday to qualify for the postseason.

Craig Smith and Patric Hornqvist scored for Nashville, and the Predators limited the Coyotes' offensive chances for much of the game. Phoenix, which had nine shots in the first period, did not record its first of the second until 3:42 remained. Rinne gloved Mikkel Boedker's 38-foot wrist shot for Phoenix's first shot of the period.

"Not enough push," Tippett said. "Not enough plays being made to generate the speed going into the offensive zone. Disappointing for sure."

Smith, who was first on Nashville to reach 20 goals this season, scored his first goal in 14 games. With Phoenix forward Rob Klinkhammer off for high sticking Ryan Ellis, the Predators scored their first power-play goal in six games when Smith skated into the left circle and roofed a wrist shot over Coyotes goalie Thomas Greiss' glove at 10:26 of the second period. It was Smith's 21st goal.

After a scoreless first period, Nashville coach Barry Trotz made sure Phoenix saw plenty of defenseman Shea Weber, one of the League's best. Weber finished plus-1 in 26:27 of ice time; he logged 7:16 in the first period, 9:02 in the second and 10:09 in the third.

Hornqvist scored his 21st goal at 9:21 of the third period. He, Smith and Weber are tied for the Nashville lead. Hornqvist drove the net and put Mike Fisher's feed on goal, a bang-bang play. Greiss stopped the initial shot, but Stone could not clear the rebound, and Hornqvist poked it in.

Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm was whistled for a holding penalty with 4:40 left in the third, but Phoenix could not convert despite some prolonged zone time. Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle had a wide-open net during that power play, but the cross-ice pass to him was off the mark. On that same power play, Nashville center Paul Gaustad played without a stick for a significant amount of time.

"I can't even go through the opportunities that we've had the last six games that the puck hasn't gone in," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "One tonight, the puck hits my skate, goes between [Rinne's] legs, hits the post right before they scored. It would have made it 1-1. It's a different game. I mean, [Rinne] thought it went in too by his reaction and turns around and it's sitting on the post. I mean, there's been lots of that, but it doesn't really matter. Being close doesn't count."

Tippett was asked if he considered the risky move of pulling Greiss to create a 6-on-4 advantage during that power play. The Coyotes' power play ranks fourth in the NHL at 20.4 percent.

"You have 4 1/2 minutes left. If you get one on the power play, it's been one of our strengths all year," Tippett said. "… If they happen to shoot the puck all the way down the ice and ice it and now it's 3-0, now you have no chance. If you get one on your power play and then you got your goalie pulled for the last two minutes, you're in good shape. But our play has been good all year, but it didn't come through."

The Coyotes have struggled since No. 1 goalie Mike Smith sustained a lower-body injury on March 24. With Greiss starting every game since, the Coyotes have gone 2-3-4. They are 0-3-3 in their past six and have scored seven goals combined during that span.

"We haven't created enough," Tippett said, "and when we do create the chances we create we haven't finished. It's frustrating."

Like Smith, center Martin Hanzal, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, is a key component missing from the Coyotes lineup. Hanzal has 15 goals and 25 assists in 65 games. Tippett said those players cannot be rushed back into the lineup.

"They've got to be able to function," he said. "If they can't function, they can't play. You can play hurt, but you can't play injured. These guys are injured. They can't play."

Rinne, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist who missed 51 games with a hip infection, earned his second shutout of the season. The Predators, who were eliminated from playoff contention with a 3-2 shootout loss to Dallas on Tuesday, are 10-4-2 in their past 16 games.

"It feels good, but it's a team achievement as well," Rinne said of becoming the franchise's all-time wins leader. "I have played with good players and good teams and been fortunate many times. But it feels good. Tomas Vokoun, who I passed, was a great goalie for this organization and did a lot of things for this organization."

Nashville has two games left before its offseason begins.

To avoid heading into the offseason earlier than they'd hoped, the Coyotes need some help.

"That's where we are," Tippett said. "The roller coaster continues."

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