By Dave Vest
NASHVILLE – Looking to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals vs. Nashville, the Coyotes gave up two goals within a 66-second span of the first period of Game 3 on Wednesday night and couldn’t recover at Bridgestone Arena.
The Predators won, 2-0, behind a 32-save shutout by Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne.
Predators forward David Legwand gave Nashville a 1-0 lead when he wristed the puck past Smith at 8:10 after rookie Gabriel Bourque corralled an errant clearing attempt by Coyotes goalie Mike Smith and fed Legwand the puck in the slot for an easy goal from the left corner.
Mike Fisher upped Nashville's lead to 2-0 soon after Legwand’s goal. Martin Erat set up the tally by forcing a turnover in the Phoenix zone and then centering the puck to Sergei Kostitsyn, who fed Fisher the puck for the goal at 9:16. Fisher appeared to be trying to pass the puck back to Kostitsyn, but it hit Smith's stick and flipped over his shoulder and into the net.
“I thought we gave up two easy goals, unearned goals, early,” Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “When you look at the situation, you knew they were going to come hard and we gave them that early energy, that early momentum.”
Trailing 2-0, the Coyotes went on a five-on-three power play for 41 seconds late in the third period. Despite creating multiple scoring chances, including a couple off the stick of Radim Vrbata (see KEY MOMENT below), the Coyotes couldn’t get the puck past Rinne.
“It feels good,” said Rinne, who allowed nine goals in the first two games. “It’s always tough after the first few games and you give up a lot of goals and lose two games in a row. You put a lot of pressure on yourself and it feels good to win this one, and play a solid game. It makes the series totally different now."
The Predators won despite playing without suspended forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn.
“We did a good job as a team tonight, but we’ve still got to keep getting better,” Predators captain Shea Weber said. “We respect this team and know that they’re going to come out just as hard next game.”
Coyotes defenseman Rostislav Klesla came within an inch or so of putting Phoenix ahead 1-0 early in the first period, but his shot from the left wing sailed just wide and hit the right post.
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"I just wanted to put it quickly far side," Klesla said. "Too bad it didn’t go in because the game could have turned the other way."
The Coyotes still lead the best-of-seven series, 2-1, with Game 4 in Nashville on Friday.
"We don’t expect to beat Nashville four straight," Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris said. "We know they’re a real good team; a real physical team that plays hard (and) is going to come to the net all night long. They play a lot like us so we knew it was going to be a good matchup and we’ll lose some games but we’ll bounce right back… I think they just competed better."