Coyotes punch ticket to Western Conference Finals

Arizona Sports News online

The Phoenix Coyotes don’t care about distractions, ownership issues, or any other obstacle standing between them and the Stanley Cup.

They proved that again Monday night at Arena in Glendale holding off the Nashville Predators 2-1 in Game 5 to punch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals winning the series 4-1.

This came on the same day Commissioner Gary Bettman and lead investor Greg Jamison played footsie during a media session less than an hour before the Coyotes took the ice. There was no new information on the Coyotes future in Arizona, merely a re-cap of timeline events moving forward.

The meeting didn’t have any effect on the Coyotes play on the ice.

“It’s very rewarding because of the work they put in,” head coach Dave Tippett explained after the win. “It wasn’t a coincidence. Our players have focused on the task at hand all year.”

Although there was no scoring in the first period, the Predators were clearly the more urgent team controlling both ends of the ice and outshooting Phoenix 10-5. Mike Smith was again brilliant between the pipes deflecting shots from all angles as Nashville peppered away to no avail.

The Coyotes started the second period with more energy and eventually broke the scoreless tie when defenseman Derek Morris fired a blast from the point past Pekka Rinne in front of heavy traffic to put Phoenix ahead 1-0. The play happened moments after Rinne stoned Shane Doan on a breakaway, but Nashville was never able to clear the puck and Morris eventually capitalized.

The goal seemed to rattle Rinne as Martin Hanzal made it 2-0 netting his third goal of the post-season off assists from Kyle Chipchura and Daymond Langkow. The Predators turned up the intensity in the Coyotes zone, but failed to capitalize on three power play chances and Phoenix stood 20 minutes from a showdown with the LA Kings in the Western Conference Finals.

Things heated up in the with just under six minutes to play when Colin Wilson beat Smith for his first goal of the playoffs to pull Nashville to within a goal, but the hottest goalie in hockey was again rock solid down the stretch slamming the door and preserving the series win.

After the game, Tippett commended his net minder, but said he got a lot of help around him.

“[Smith] has been a huge part of our team. In the playoffs, you have to have great goaltending. Smitty made the saves when he needed to, but we made some plays in front of him. We made it muddy in front of our net and the mud won out in the end.”

The Coyotes will take Tuesday off before beginning their preparation for 8th-seeded Kings.

A Valley native, Eric has had a passion for the Arizona sports scene since an early age. He has covered some of the biggest events including Super Bowls, national championships and the NBA and MLB playoffs in his near 20 years in local media.

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