Glendale, AZ – Monday was a good day for the Phoenix Coyotes.
Just a few hours after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the league has found a new owner for Phoenix, the team took a 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
"Our focus, I thought, was excellent," said Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett. "We knew it was going to be a very tough game, so I like the way our guys hung in there."
Martin Hanzal and Derek Morris each scored a goal while Mike Smith stopped 32 shots as the Coyotes won this semfinal series in five games.
The Phoenix/Winnipeg franchise had won just two playoff series in its history, and that included a six-game defeat of Chicago in this year's playoffs. The Coyotes will next face the Kings, who defeated the top-seeded Canucks in the first round and second-seeded Blues in the second round, in the conference finals.
Colin Wilson scored late in the third while Pekka Rinne made 15 saves for the Predators, who defeated the Red Wings in the first round to make the semifinals for a second straight year, but have still never advanced to the conference finals.
After a scoreless first period that saw Smith make 10 saves and Rinne turn aside five, the Coyotes took a 1-0 lead at the 3:54 mark of the second.
After Shane Doan was stopped on a breakaway, Phoenix kept the pressure in the Nashville end. Doan sent a pass from behind the left of the net and it found its way to the right point where a shot from Morris made its way into the back of the net for his first goal of the playoffs.
"I put a shot, kind of just got it through, and you know what happens in this league. We got great traffic [in front of the net] and I was fortunate to squeeze through the puck," Morris said.
Later in the frame, after killing a pair of Nashville power plays, the Coyotes made it a 2-0 game. Kyle Chipchura skated the puck to the bottom of the right circle and held up there. He then sent the puck back to the right point and Hanzal let loose with a wrister from the top of the circle for his third of the playoffs with 4:51 to play in the second.
Smith turned away 12 shots in the second, but the Predators finally got to him in the third when a David Legwand pass from the top of the right circle was redirected past Smith with 5:59 to play.
That was it though, as Nashville was unable to stay alive in the series by netting the equalizer and Smith nearly scored into the empty net before Phoenix won a final faceoff in its end to win the series.
"We did everything we could at the end there, trying to get the tying goal, and we got a lot of shots," said Rinne. "But it's just like other games in this series: we didn't get anything past [Smith]."
The tentative deal saw the Coyotes sold to a group led by former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison. Bettman stated that the deal will be finalized soon...Phoenix played the game without defenseman Rostislav Klesla, who was suspended one game for boarding Matt Halischuk in Game 4...Smith has stopped 379-of-400 shots in the playoffs for a .948 save percentage and a 1.77 goals against average...Nashville forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyin were back in the lineup on Monday after being suspended for Game 3 for violating team rules and being held out of the lineup for Game 4.