‘The Wizard’ wins it, Coyotes take Game 1

What would playoff hockey be for the Phoenix Coyotes without another overtime game, right?

For the sixth time in seven games, the ‘Yotes found themselves surviving sudden death, beating the Nashville Predators 4-3 in Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinals at Jobing.com Arena.

Phoenix started the scoring when right-winger Radim Vrbata netted his first goal of the playoffs as the Coyotes power play finally woke up. Vrbata, who led the Coyotes with 35 goals during the regular season, beat Pekka Rinne top shelf to give the ‘Yotes an early lead.

However, the ‘Yotes good fortune didn’t last long as Francis Bouillon’s blast from the blue line took a bad bounce and Brandon Yip stuffed it in as Mike Smith was caught out of position chasing Bouillon’s blast to tie it at one.

As expected, the first period was evenly played with Nashville holding a slight 9-8 advantage in shots.

The start of the second period mirrored the first as the Coyotes pulled ahead 2-1 when defenseman Rusty Klesla beat Rinne, putting back his own deflected shot in front of the net off the assist of Daymond Landkow and Adrian Aucoin.

Nashville re-tied it when Andrei Kostitsyn beat Smith from point-blank range as both continued to play tight hockey at both ends of the ice.

Phoenix took the lead into the final period when the Coyotes capitalized on a two-on-one break and red-hot Mikkel Boedker beat Rinne with a sweet stop-and-go move to make it 3-2.

Both goalies shined in the final period, but once again Phoenix couldn’t hold a late lead after Martin Erat scored his first goal of the post-season just seconds into a power play opportunity. The goal snapped a streak of 18 consecutive power play kills dating back to Game 2 of the Blackhawks series.

The Coyotes eventually got the break they needed in overtime when the ageless wonder Ray Whitney slid the puck past Rinne for the game-winner as the sellout crowd of 17,187 erupted in Glendale.

“Marty [Hanzal] took the face-off,” Whitney explained. “I held for a moment and then went to the net. I stabbed at it and it went in. It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but I’ll take it.”

Even in the victory, Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett was less than thrilled with his team’s effort in the third period and overtime as the ‘Yotes were outshot 24-7, but credits his goaltender for saving the day again.

“In the third period and overtime he was under siege, but he battled,” Tippett said. “He did a heck of a job for us.”