By Dave Vest NASHVILLE -- The Coyotes received the help they needed to clinch their first playoff berth since 2002 on Thursday night, but they couldn’t help themselves quite enough.
Despite rallying from a 3-1 deficit after two periods, Phoenix lost to the Nashville Predators, 4-3 in a shootout, at Bridgestone Arena. The Coyotes needed two points to secure their postseason invitation, but they had to settle for one.
Nashville center David Legwand scored the game-deciding goal in the bottom of the third round after Lee Stempniak and Cal O'Reilly each scored in the first round. Legwand ended the game by wristing a shot between the pads of Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who made 28 saves in 65 minutes.
"If you look at a lot of our shootouts, (Legwand) has a lot of times been the clutch guy, the guy that has kept things alive when we were down," Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "I felt that he was going to be clutch again, and he was."
The New York Islanders defeated the Calgary Flames, 3-2, earlier Thursday night to set up a chance for Phoenix to clinch a postseason berth with a victory over Nashville.
The Predators, themselves jockeying for playoff position in the Western Conference standings, dominated much of the game. But the Coyotes, playing their eighth game in 13 days, scored twice within a 2:35 span of the third period to force overtime and the shootout.
“They played with a lot of energy,” Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “They really came at us hard and we didn’t have much to push back. But in the end, I liked the way our guys hung around the game and we got a point. We’ll take a point out of that.”
Defenseman Keith Yandle had a goal and two assists for Phoenix (46-23-6), which took a 1-0 lead when Stempniak ended a two-game pointless streak by beating Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne with a wrist shot off the right post from the left circle on a two-on-one break at 5:54 of the first period.
The Predators then outplayed the Coyotes over the next 35 minutes and scored three goals while Rinne was tending their net without a blemish.
After the game, captain Shane Doan said the Coyotes did not know Calgary had lost when they took the ice for the third period. Nevertheless, Phoenix played with much more intensity in the final 20 minutes.
Forward Wojtek Wolski pulled the Coyotes to within 3-2 at 13:28 of the third period by wristing a shot past Rinne after Yandle fed him a nice pass after making a spin move on Patric Hornqvist deep in Nashville’s zone.
Yandle’s goal with 3:57 left tied the score at 3-3 and capped his second three-point game of the season. Doan poked him the puck from the left corner and Yandle slapped it past Rinne. It was the 39th goal scored by a Coyotes defenseman this season. That is tops in the NHL.
Hornqvist, Steve Sullivan and Dan Hamhuis scored goals in regulation for Nashville (43-27-5), which has won seven of its past eight games.
“If you look at the eight games we’ve played in the last 13 days, to come out of it 6-1-1, I think that speaks volumes for how hard our group has worked,” Tippett said. “Tonight it looked like we didn’t have as much energy as we’d like, and give them a ton of credit. They came out and played a very hard game.”
Tied 1-1 in the third round of the shootout, Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata made a nice move and then backhanded the puck past Predators goalie Pekka Rinne. The puck hit the crossbar, however, and bounced away.
• Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett opted to use defenseman Adrian Aucoin in the second round of the shootout instead of later with the game’s outcome more clearly on the line. Tied 1-1, Aucoin failed to score a shootout goal for the first time in six tries this season – and his career. Asked why he used Aucoin – aka ‘The Closer” – so early in the shootout, Tippett said: “We felt like we were probably fortunate to get to the shootout and we’ve been winning them, so we stepped out of the box a little bit and tried something different and it didn’t work out. But now we can get back to focusing on playing rather than the shootout.”
• The Coyotes will next get a chance to clinch a playoff berth on Saturday when they host the Colorado Avalanche. Phoenix could clinch before that game even starts if Calgary loses at Boston on Saturday. That game begins at 10 a.m. (Arizona time).
• Defenseman Ed Jovanovski left the game temporarily after being slashed in the left hand by Nashville's Martin Erat with 7:39 left in the second period. No penalty was called, and Jovanovski returned to the game in the third period.
• The Coyotes dropped to 34-3-3 in games in which they’ve scored the first goal.
• Forward Lee Stempniak has notched 10 goals and two assists in 11 games since being acquired in a trade with Toronto on March 3.
• Center Petteri Nokelainen won six of eight faceoffs.
"Our legs weren’t there in the beginning. I don’t know if it just took us a little while to get going, but you can’t be flying every game… We’re just happy to get a point."
"We sort of regrouped before the third (period). We knew we just needed to get one goal to give ourselves a chance late in the game and we got a big goal from (Wojtek Wolski) and were able to tie it up."
"It's always tense going into overtime, and any way that I can help out is great. I beat (Ilya Bryzgalov) earlier in the year and that kind of went through my head, too, so going down, I saw him make the move first."