Yes, the Predators didn’t bury the majority of their chances all series. Yes, the distraction of Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn was self-inflicted. Yes, the Predators could have been better in a lot of areas of the game.
But the Phoenix Coyotes deserved to win this series. Plain and simple.
A lot of good teams run into a hot team or goaltender in the playoffs and it ends up being their kryptonite. And that’s exactly what happened to the Predators here.
Mike Smith has been sensational in net for the Coyotes all year, particularly in the final few weeks of the regular season and in the playoffs. Smith has a .948 save percentage this postseason and successfully got into the heads of the Predators after he did the same thing to Chicago last round.
Between Games Three and Five, Smith impressively went eight periods without giving up a goal. In that time the Predators forwards didn’t appear to have much confidence or an answer. They were trying too hard to pick corners and find different ways to score. Also, Smith set the tone for the series in Game One when he stood on his head in the third period and overtime before Ray Whitney’s puck-luck winner.
Aside from Smith, the Coyotes did a tremendous job of staying to their game plan and putting the Predators in uncomfortable situations. Both teams thrive off playing with the lead, something the Predators never did outside of Game Three. They were chasing the individual games and, in turn, the entire series, which is really hard to do against the Coyotes.
Dave Tippett always says that he never worries about what the opposition brings to the table, and that he only focuses on what the Coyotes are doing. You could see that in this series. They never changed who they were, especially defensively where they frustrated the Predators the most. The Coyotes made the Predators play their game for most of this series, which is a big reason why it ended sooner than most pundits predicted.
Offensively, the Coyotes had contributions throughout the lineup. One player or one line didn’t make all the difference. Radim Vrbata, Shane Doan, Martin Hanzal and Whitney all played the role of hero in this series. It was a total team effort in all areas of the game, including offensively.
The Coyotes’ penalty kill also did a good job of sucking the air out of the Predators’ power play in the final three games of the series. The Predators, who boasted the NHL’s top power play unit all year, went 0-for-12 after a 2-for-2 effort in Game Two.
Yes, the Predators could have been better. But the Coyotes deserved to advance.