Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 5/5/12
NASHVILLE, Tenn. Two Phoenix-area reporters were walking into the postgame press conference Friday night, searching for a launching point to their stories, when one columnist blurted out: "You want a lead? The Jets (Coyotes) have never been to the conference finals." At that very moment, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett entered the room and chastised the columnist with a: "Shhhhh!" The Coyotes are thriving on this underdog, under-siege, under-the-radar role. Why jinx it now? For a second straight game, the Nashville Predators threw everything they had at the Coyotes, carrying the play for large stretches of the second and third periods. But a combination of sound defensive play, missed Predators opportunities and strong goaltending from Mike Smith produced a 1-0 win at Bridgestone Arena, putting the Coyotes on the brink of that milestone Tippett doesn't want to acknowledge. "We talked about how they were going to push hard tonight and we had to be better," captain Shane Doan said. "We were better for the most part." That was especially true in the first period, when the Coyotes displayed the kind of push they did in Game 2 when they thoroughly dominated Nashville. Predators goalie Pekka Rinne made a pair of stellar saves on Mikkel Boedker and Ray Whitney to keep the game scoreless early, but Doan finally broke through on a goal that went in off the stick of Nashville defenseman Roman Josi at the 14:25 mark of the first period. The team that scored first had won every game in this Western Conference semifinal series, and Phoenix used that knowledge to assume a familiar rope-a-dope style, albeit with one notable exception: the defensive-zone coverage was superb. The Coyotes got their sticks into the passing and shooting lanes to deflect countless pucks. And when they couldn't reach the pucks, the Coyotes reached the Predators, taking away space and time in their own zone to force Nashville into hurried and often inaccurate shots. The Predators had a total of 14 missed shots, many of them on quality scoring chances. Forward Patric Hornqvist led the way with five, including a golden opportunity in the second period when Smith mishandled the puck and Hornqvist had the entire upper half of the net open but shot high. "We were still aggressive," said Smith, who posted his second postseason shutout while upping his save percentage to .946. "When they did get opportunities, we got stick on puck and we had guys lying down blocking shots. My 'D' were tremendous tonight. This was one of the better games they've played in front of me." The Coyotes have been in this situation before. They brought a 3-1 series lead back home for Game 5 against Chicago in the first round and lost in overtime. But forward Ray Whitney said there are no grand lessons to take from that experience -- just the knowledge that playoff games are tight affairs. "We realize that this series is certainly not over," Whitney said. "The game tonight could have gone either way, and I wouldn't expect anything less from them in the next game." In the meantime, the Coyotes will take Saturday off to regroup, recharge, refocus and maybe watch the Kentucky Derby. One Coyotes official jokingly asked for recommendations on which horse to back. If we were betting, we'd go with Bodemeister. His jockey's name? Mike Smith.
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