By Josh Cooper in Glendale, Ariz.
It had to happen this way for Phoenix on Monday.
The day that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman came to Glendale, Ariz. to display hope for a new owner, the Coyotes punched their ticket to the Western Conference final for the first time in franchise history. And they did it by playing a strong defensive style and relying on goaltender Mike Smith. Overall, the Coyotes allowed 33 shots on goal and Smith stopped 32.
"It's great that we are past the second round, but that's not what you play for," Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata said. "When you get a chance to be where you are, you give it your all and try to get to the [Stanley Cup] finals and win it."
The Coyotes came into the series as a bit of an underdog. They had 97 points in the regular season to Nashville's 104. The Predators had two all-star defencemen in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, a Vezina Trophy finalist in goaltender Pekka Rinne and offensive firepower with Alexander Radulov and Martin Erat. But in the end, it was a solid and structured team game by Phoenix that enabled the Coyotes to win.
"It's very rewarding because you love to see people rewarded for the work they put in," Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett gushed. "You just think about how much work Shane Doan has put in.
"You think about the work Mike Smith has put in this year and throughout his career to get to this level. This doesn't just happen by coincidence.
"There's a lot of work that goes in behind the scenes. The organization, obviously, there's been some adversity a lot of other teams don't have to go through."
This adversity is likely the uncertainty around Phoenix's ownership situation. Since 2009, the Coyotes have been run by the NHL. But with Bettman's media conference introducing prospective buyer Greg Jamison, there was a palpable buzz around the arena that the Coyotes will stay in Glendale. Their victory should at very least give the fan base something to continue to cheer about for at least the next two weeks.
"We've grown to be pretty callous to the outside stuff," said Doan, the captain of the Coyotes. "It doesn't affect us.
"We've just got to keep playing hockey. When it comes down to it, we'll find out one way or the other."
The Predators head into the off-season facing a different type of uncertainty. Nashville has 15 players who will be restricted or unrestricted free agents.
Weber is slated to be a restricted free agent and Suter will become an unrestricted free agent if he can't come to terms on a new contract by July 1, at which time he can leave without compensation for Nashville.
"Right now, I'm disappointed how tonight went," Suter said following the game. "I haven't really thought about it."
Added Weber, still in shock: "Right now is not the time to think about it. It's just, kind of... this is all going to sink in.
"It's still weird. Coming to the rink tomorrow, we're not going to be coming to play.
"We're done. So let this settle in and then we'll try to figure it out."
Josh Cooper reports for The Tennessean. Follow him @joshuacooper
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