Glendale, AZ – Ray Whitney scored the winner at the 14:04 mark of overtime as Phoenix took a thrilling 4-3 win over Nashville in Game 1 of this Western Conference semifinal series.
A right-circle faceoff saw Martin Hanzal win the draw and push it forward. He then swiped the puck over to the front where Whitney kicked it to his stick and poked it past Pekka Rinne.
"I held for a moment and then thought I'd just go to the net," said Whitney about the goal. "Then Marty (Hanzal) got it over and I just stabbed it at the net. It wasn't a thing of beauty, but it worked."
Rostislav Klesla had a goal and an assist while Radim Vrbata and Mikkel Boedker each had a goal for the Coyotes, who defeated Chicago in six games in the opening round to win a playoff series for the first time since moving to Phoenix prior to the start of the 1996-97 season.
Mike Smith made 39 saves in the win for Phoenix, which is looking to advance to the conference finals for the first time in club history.
"Skill and compete are imperative in this game, especially in the playoffs, and our skill and compete in the third period was non-existent," said Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett. "That is unacceptable and we're lucky to have won it in overtime."
Martin Erat, Brandon Yip and Andrei Kostitsyn all had goals for the Predators, who took down the Red Wings in five games in the first round. Rinne gave up the four goals on 24 shots.
"We know we're going to get better as this series goes on," said Nashville head coach Barry Trotz. "We have another level in our game. I thought the first half of this game we weren't as good as we could be and the second half I thought we played a lot better."
Game 2 of this best-of-seven series will be played Sunday night in Phoenix.
The first goal of the game went to Phoenix courtesy of the power play. With Kevin Klein in the box after he tripped up Lauri Korpikoski, Whitney sent a pass from the left point to the low left circle where Vrbata ripped in a wrister at the 7:23 mark.
Nashville, though, tied the game seven minutes later thanks to a lucky bounce. Francis Bouillon dumped the puck in from the left wing and Smith went behind the net to play it. The puck, though, hit high off the glass and bounced back out front where a Yip tapped it into the open net.
The Coyotes again took the lead at the 3:05 mark of the second as Klesla brought the puck out from the left boards. His centering attempt was blocked by a defender, but it went right back to him and he swept it in.
The Predators came right back again and tied the game at the 11:19 mark of the second when a jam in front of the net saw Kostitsyn bang the puck in for his second of the playoffs.
However, Phoenix took a 3-2 lead into the second intermission off a 2-on-1 break that saw Boedker skate down the right wing and come just a few feet away from the crease as he backed off the defender and snapped a wrister in off the left post.
Rinne kept it a one-goal game with about eight minutes to play in the third as he stopped a redirect down low from Hanzal, Phoenix's first and only shot of the period, and the Predators tied the game a few minutes later.
With Boyd Gordon in the box for holding the stick, a slap shot from Ryan Suter in the high slot was stopped, but there was bodies in front and Erat was able to backhand the rebound in with 4:42 left in regulation to send the game to overtime.
Phoenix won the season series, 2-1-1 and this is the first time these two clubs have met in the playoffs...Neither of these teams have ever advanced past the second round...In the playoffs this year there have been 17 games that have gone to overtime, but the home team has won just six...Nashville was 1-for-5 on the power play while Phoenix was 1-for-3.