The Phoenix Coyotes will try to earn a trip to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history tonight, as they host the Nashville Predators in Game 5 at Jobing.com Arena.
The third-seeded Coyotes are holding a 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal matchup and Phoenix can advance to the third round with another win tonight. The Coyotes have never made it to the conference finals and that includes the franchise's time as the original Winnipeg Jets from 1972-96.
Phoenix rode goaltender Mike Smith to a pivotal win in Friday's Game 4 at Nashville. Smith made 25 saves to earn his second shutout of the postseason as the Coyotes held on for the 1-0 triumph at Bridgestone Arena.
Smith has been nothing short of amazing in these playoffs, going 7-3 with a 1.85 goals-against average. All told, he's stopped 347-of-367 shots in the playoffs for a save percentage of .946.
Coyotes captain Shane Doan netted the game's lone goal in the first period to help give Phoenix a commanding 3-1 series lead.
"The game went exactly how we anticipated," Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said. "I thought it was going to be tightly contested, maybe a break here or there gives one team an edge, and that's exactly what happened."
Phoenix last lost a series when leading 3-1 in the 1999 conference quarterfinals against St. Louis. The franchise was victims of a 3-1 comeback twice during its years in Winnipeg. The Jets lost to Edmonton in the 1990 Smythe Division semifinals and blew another 3-1 lead in losing to Vancouver in the same round in 1992.
Pekka Rinne stopped 23-of-24 shots in a losing effort for Nashville in Game 4.
"They had a good start to their game and after that we got it going. In the second and third we played really well, but we just couldn't get it by [Smith]," said Rinne.
Like the Coyotes, Nashville is also aiming for the franchise's first-ever trip to the conference finals. The Predators have never won a playoff series after trailing 3-1.
Nashville forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn were both kept out of the lineup for the second straight game after being suspended for Game 3 for violating team rules. With the Predators' backs against the wall, both players expect to make their returns tonight.
Radulov leads the Predators with six points in seven playoff games this spring, while Kostitsyn's three goals are tied for the team lead with David Legwand and Gabriel Bourque.
The Coyotes will play tonight without defenseman Rostislav Klesla, who has been suspended for one game by the NHL for boarding Predators forward Matt Halischuk in Game 4.