By Josh Cooper in Glendale, Ariz.
It had to come.
The Phoenix Coyotes were due for a stout effort, one in which they weren't going to rely on goaltender Mike Smith. They had to have an game that reminded us why they notched 97 points and won the Pacific Division. They got a sound effort all the way around, beating the Nashville Predators at their own game in a 5-3 win. It was the first time Phoenix had outshot an opponent so far this playoffs.
"Right through our lineup, we really had a consorted push," Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said. "I didn't think there were any weak links.
"Smith made some saves when he needed to. But our group in front of him was really good today.
"I would say this is the best 60 minutes we have played in the playoffs, for sure. Just solid throughout and a lot of different elements of the game were really solid."
In many ways, the Coyotes are taking a game Nashville has been known to play throughout its history and taking it to the Predators. Phoenix drove hard to the net and pressured the Predators defence with a tough forecheck. Going into the series, both teams were considered mirror images. It has been Phoenix that has used its scrappiness to its advantage.
"Obviously,in the playoffs, anything can happen," Smith said. "But we have to feel good where we sit right now.
"Saying that, it's going to be a long series and we are setting ourselves up fro it. We're just going to go one game at a time."
Phoenix was hard on Nashville all night and it showed. Martin Hanzal's goal came off a rush to the net by Radim Vrbata. Taylor Pyatt's goal came when he pursued a Shane Doan rebound. Doan's goal came off a deflection in front of Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne.
"We are the same kind of team as they are," Rinne said. "They're playing well, they're executing and playing the kind of game we want to play and playing with the speed and getting pucks to the net and getting those rebounds and just executing."
That has been the issue for the Predators. Phoenix is beating them at 'Predators' hockey. The Predators were always known for their defence and toughness.
Then, at the trade deadline, Nashville added more skill players, bringing in Andrei Kostitsyn and getting Alexander Radulov to come back from Russia. Now the Predators are finding out that such players may work well against teams like Detroit and Chicago -- more skill-based groups. But against a squad like
Phoenix, grit and speed is trumping players with offensive talent. Radulov has one point in the series and played 15 minutes 17 seconds in Game 2.
"We're not committed to playing defence," Predators defenceman Ryan Suter said. "We're trying to run-and-gun.
"But that's not the way we've gotten to this point. We have to get back to focusing on playing defence -- playing [well] in our own end -- and the goals will come."
Josh Cooper reports for the Tenneseean. Follow him on Twitter @joshuacooper
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