Posted April 28, 2012 on AP on Fox
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Ray Whitney scored 14:04 into overtime and the Phoenix Coyotes survived another late goal in regulation to open the Western Conference semifinals with a 4-3 victory over the Nashville Predators on Friday night. Phoenix was 33-1 when leading after two periods during the regular season, but has struggled to close out playoff games. The Coyotes allowed four tying third-period goals against Chicago in the first round and did it again, giving up Martin Erat's goal on a power play with 4:42 left. Despite spending most of the third period and overtime in their own zone, the Coyotes won their first second-round NHL playoff game ever when Whitney slipped a backhander between Pekka Rinne's pads after Martin Hanzal won a faceoff in Nashville's zone. Mike Smith made 39 saves, Rostislav Klesla had a goal and an assist, Radim Vrbata and Mikkel Boedker also scored, and Phoenix won despite being outshot 25-7 after the second period. The Coyotes are the first team in NHL history to have six of its first seven playoff games go to overtime. Game 2 is Sunday in the desert. Brandon Yip had his first goal of the playoffs, Andrei Kostitsyn also scored and Erat got the tying goal late. The Predators couldn't finish it off, though, unable to beat Smith in overtime to lose a game they mostly controlled after the second period. This mirror-image matchup was expected to come down to which team could play the same style best. Both teams have superb goaltenders, smart coaches and a defense-first style - attributes they used to get by more-skilled opponents in the first round. After winning their first division title as an NHL franchise, the Coyotes survived a rash of injuries and five overtime games to beat the Chicago Blackhawks and advance in the playoffs for the first time since 1987, when the team was still in Winnipeg. Nashville finished six wins and seven points ahead of Phoenix, but was the Western Conference's fourth seed because the Coyotes won the Pacific Division. The Predators beat nemesis Detroit in a surprisingly easy five games in the first round behind Rinne, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy for the second straight year. That gave Nashville a week off, plenty of time to heal and rest up - and gather some rust, apparently. Sluggish and out of synch, Nashville was on its heels early, leading to a power play midway through the first period. Vrbata capitalized, flipping a wrister from the left circle that skipped off Rinne's mask and over his stick shoulder. The Predators seemed to snap out of their funk after that and had better puck control, tying it late in the period thanks to an awkward bounce. Looking for nothing more than a dump-in, Francis Bouillon sent a pass along the left boards that shot almost 90 degrees to the right. With Smith in back anticipating the pass, Yip had it easy, flipping into an empty net. Phoenix went back up early in the second period on a good bounce of its own. This one came off the back of Predators defenseman Roman Josi, who dove to block a pass and knocked it down right in front of Klesla at the edge of the crease. Nashville again had an answer, using a turnover in Phoenix's zone midway through to set up a goal by Andrei Kostitsyn, who poked the puck under a sprawled out Smith after he couldn't cover a rebound. Boedker scored his goal late in the period, waiting and waiting on a 2-on-1 before ripping a wrister past Rinne, who had a spectacular save on Whitney about a minute earlier. That made it 3-2 - not quite what was expected between two of the NHL's best defensive teams. Nashville turned up the pressure in the third period, outshooting Phoenix 16-1. The flurry led to Erat's tying goal on a rebound, sending the Coyotes to yet another overtime game in the playoffs. Phoenix somehow pulled it out, playing its rope-a-dope game to perfection again to steal a game from the Predators. Notes: Nashville D Hal Gill returned after missing the Detroit series with a lower-body injury. ... Phoenix killed off 18 straight penalties before Erat's goal. ... The Predators, the NHL's best power-play team during the regular season, were 2 for 26 in the playoffs before Erat scored with the man advantage.
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