GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The question was inane. No depth at all to it. But the words seemed to fit. "Hockey the hard way," the statement formed into a question by a TV reporter after Friday's Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference semifinals, is not only the Phoenix Coyotes' marketing theme for this season. It is how they have existed in the playoffs.
Ray Whitney got a friendly puck bounce from teammates Martin Hanzal off a faceoff and put a shot in the back of the net at 14:04 of overtime, and the Coyotes won a thriller over the Nashville Predators 4-3 to go up 1-0 in the series.
Talk about being tested and not for the faint of heart. The Coyotes played the sixth overtime game of their seven in these playoffs alone. Five in a row with Chicago in Round 1, then a win in regulation in Game 6 of that series, then right back to overtime for Friday's game. The Coyotes moved to 4-2 in those OT games and won the second of those at home after two home overtime losses to the Blackhawks.
"That's not the game plan," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said after he could exhale a sigh of relief. "Our skill and compete in the third period was non-existent. Just not good enough. We were fortunate to win in overtime.
"Spending over five minutes of the third period on the penalty kill is not the recipe for success. We need our players to make plays under pressure."
Tippett commended the effort of goalkeeper Mike Smith, who was under fire in the third period and overtime. The Predators had 16 shot in the third and nine in OT, and only one of those 25 got by Smith (in photo).
The Coyotes never trailed in the game, leading 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2. Each time, the Predators had an answer.
In the third period, Martin Erat tied the score at 3. A shot by Preds teammate Patric Hornqvist rebounded off Smith (who made the initial stop, not surprisingly) for Erat, who scored at 15:18 of the period. It was a downer of a goal; the Coyotes had killed four previous power plays but didn't have enough left for a fifth.
The overtime period was all Predators, really, as the Coyotes' shots looked much more harmless than those of Nashville. Smith either got a break as the shots went high or wide, or actually stopped some by some miracle.
"Once again, the resilient Coyotes found a way to get a win," Smith said, explaining how he lose his stick for a moment during overtime.
Game 2 is Sunday at Jobing.com Arena, and perhaps all of the seats will be filled this time. They weren't on Friday, even though a sellout standing room only crowd of 17,187 was announced and many arrived late.