Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 4/28/12
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Coyotes probably should have skated off the ice Friday night down a game to open the Western Conference semifinals. They probably shouldn't have even had the chance to win in overtime. But they did, and it was all thanks to -- who else? -- goaltender Mike Smith. As usual, Smith did all the heavy lifting in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, withstanding a tireless assault from the Predators in a 4-3 overtime win for the Coyotes. Phoenix once again surrendered a lead in the third period as Nashville cranked up its attack. Afterward, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett lambasted his team's effort in the third period and overtime, a stretch in which his team was outshot 25-7, including 16-1 in the third period. "The third period, they cranked their game up and we didn't respond," Tippett said. "Third (period) and overtime, (Smith) was under siege, and he hung in there and played very well. He did a heck of a job for us." To translate: Smith bailed the Coyotes out of a game they looked at times almost certain to lose. Coyotes forward Ray Whitney, who scored the game winner in overtime, made that a bit clearer. "It was one of those nights where we relied heavily on Mike Smith," Whitney said. "He was the difference for us tonight. The last half of the game, we were too dependent on him, but we'll certainly take the win." Smith's performance wasn't anywhere near as pretty as his spectacular shutout in the Coyotes' series-clinching win in Game 6 in Chicago on Monday, but it was undoubtedly the equalizer for a team that was outplayed for the final 35 minutes Friday. The first Nashville goal could hardly be held against Smith. Nashville defenseman Francis Bouillon shot the puck into the zone around the boards, and as Smith skated behind his net in anticipation, the puck took an odd bounce off the glass, giving Brandon Yip an empty-net goal on a platter. Some might criticize Smith for wandering out of the net at all, but Tippett firmly defended the move. "I've said it a lot of times before: The amount of times he plays it and it helps us far outweigh the odd time you get a bad break," Tippett said. "That's a huge strength of his. Sometimes that happens." Said Smith, tongue in cheek: "I wasn't very happy about it. I'll have to talk to the guy that put the rink together." The next goal was a bit of a tough break too, as Smith made a great save from in close on what looked like an easy goal only to have Predators forward Andrei Kostitsyn knock in the rebound. Smith took the blame for the rebound goal late in the third period that forced the team's sixth overtime game this postseason. But with as many shots as Nashville took in the period -- 16 of their 42 -- one was bound to go in. "I just battled to try to make saves for the boys," Smith said. "We didn't play our best hockey in the third, and they came at us pretty hard." The pressure Smith withstood in those final two periods was more than anything he saw in the first round. The Blackhawks' elite forwards made life hard for Smith, but they never put together a stretch like Nashville did Friday. Without his effort, the Coyotes might have been the ones fighting to stay alive in the final five minutes of regulation. "He's certainly the reason we were still in it at that point," Whitney said. "He's the main reason we're here, but we'll try to take a little pressure off him next game." If the Coyotes want to take a 2-0 series lead to Nashville, they will probably have to go beyond "try" on Sunday. Smith has been phenomenal throughout the playoffs, but the Coyotes know they cant keep leaning on his heroics to be the difference, particularly against a highly skilled team such as Nashville. Then again, maybe Smith prefers it that way. "That's what I'm there for -- to bail the boys out and just try to keep the team in the game as long as I can," Smith said. "Tonight was long enough."
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