By Dave Vest GLENDALE – The Coyotes are locked and loaded for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Five players scored goals and Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 23 of 25 shots to lead the Coyotes to a 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Wednesday night in front of a sellout crowd witnessing Phoenix’s final home game of the regular season.
With the victory, the Coyotes secured the fourth seed in the Western Conference standings and home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. It will be Phoenix’s first appearance in the NHL postseason since 2002.
"(The win) was big," said forward Taylor Pyatt, who scored the game-winning goal in the third period (see KEY MOMENT below). "We talked about it before the game. There's excitement in the building, in the area for the playoffs. We want to take advantage of that ... We're really looking forward to starting the playoffs at home."
Coyotes captain Shane Doan scored his first goal since Jan. 31 with 2:28 left in the game. His goal made the score 4-2. Petteri Nokelainen added an empty-net goal with 19 seconds left – his first since joining the Coyotes via a trade with Anaheim on March 4 – to create the final score.
The victory was Phoenix’s 29th on home ice and its seventh in a row at Jobing.com Arena. The Coyotes (49-25-6) are hoping to keep that Glendale mojo going against the No. 5 seed – be it Nashville, Detroit or Los Angeles – when the playoffs begin next week. Phoenix has two road games left to play to close the regular season.
Wednesday’s game started with an awkward twist for Phoenix. Just moments after receiving the team’s MVP award for his outstanding play this season, Bryzgalov failed to stop Nashville’s first shot of the game – a blast by defenseman Shea Weber just 12 seconds after the puck drop.
Not to be outdone, the Coyotes scored on their first shot of the game less than two minutes later. Lauri Korpikoski beat Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne with a nifty forehanded shot that capped a partial breakaway.
Nashville had a terrific chance to take a 2-1 lead in the second period when they went on a five-on-three power play for 58 seconds. Phoenix’s penalty killers, however, did not allow a goal. Defenseman Derek Morris keyed the kill by intercepting a pass in the right corner and clearing the puck.
Tied 1-1, Coyotes forward Wojtek Wolski scored his career-high 23rd goal of the season at 16:27 of the second period off a nice pass from Keith Yandle, who notched two assists for a second consecutive game.
Predators forward Steve Sullivan tied the score at 2 with six seconds left in Nashville’s third and final power play at 5:53 of the third period.
The Coyotes, however, scored three unanswered goals in the final 10 minutes to beat Nashville (46-29-6) for the third time in four tries this season.
Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz did not like what he saw from his players in their second-to-last game.
"That was not a real strong game for us by any stretch," Trotz said. "We were sloppy, and there were a lot of guys that didn't compete like they needed to tonight. We got what we deserved."
Predators leading scorer Patric Hornqvist left the game in the second period after he was struck by a shot by Weber. He did not return.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Click here to read more about Doan's goal.
Tied 2-2 midway through the third period, Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov made the best of his 23 saves on a shot by Predators center David Legwand. Moments later, Coyotes forward Taylor Pyatt wristed a shot from between the circles past Predators goalie Pekka Rinne at 10:36.
• Center Vernon Fiddler welcomed a new member to his family just a few hours before the puck dropped when his wife Chrissy gave birth to their second child/first daughter. Bella Jacksyn Fiddler checked in at seven pounds, 19 inches at 8:05 a.m. on Wednesday.
"It was a very special day for our family and it was also very special to come and play against my old team and clinch home-ice advantage," said Fiddler, who woke up around 5 a.m. "It's been a great day so far."
Bella Fiddler's dad played another solid game. He logged 16:08 of ice time, took three shots on goal, blocked three shots, won six of 11 face-offs and notched an assist. Before the game, Fiddler was presented with the team's Hardest Working Player award. (Click here to read about all of the awards the team presented to its players before Wednesday's game.)
• The Coyotes have been to the Stanley Cup Playoffs five times since moving to Phoenix from Winnipeg in 1996. Only once did they have home-ice advantage in the first round - in 1999. The Coyotes lost that series, 4-3, to St. Louis.
• Wednesday's game was the 200th NHL game of forward Daniel Winnik's career. Winnik marked the occasion by assisting on Lauri Korpikoski's goal.
• The Coyotes scratched Paul Bissonnette, Robert Lang, Mathieu Schneider, Viktor Tikhonov, and Jim Vandermeer. Nashville scratched Wade Belak, Denis Grebeshkov, Cal O'Reilly and Nick Spaling.
"It's great for Doaner. He tries so hard. It's so many games (without a goal). We all felt bad for him... He deserved that goal, and it was a big goal for us."
"Home ice doesn’t guarantee anything of course, but it’s great that after the season you don’t have to travel right away. You can stay home and prepare for the two big games at home and get the advantage."
"We gave them everything we've got and it’s disappointing. I feel like we should’ve won the game. Obviously, they played well, but I think we gave them everything we've got."