NHL playoffs: 2-0 lead 'huge,' but Coyotes won't look ahead

2012-05-01T00:00:00Z 2012-05-26T19:29:24Z NHL playoffs: 2-0 lead 'huge,' but Coyotes won't look aheadBob McManaman The Arizona Republic Arizona Daily Star
May 01, 2012 12:00 am  • 

GLENDALE - Just two more hours or 120 minutes of hockey - minus any of that nerve-rattling overtime, of course - and the Phoenix Coyotes could find themselves playing for the right to go to the Stanley Cup finals.

That's right, the finals.

They're that close now, thanks to a 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators on Sunday night, which gives the Coyotes a 2-0 series lead in this best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals.

If they find a way to win the next two games in Nashville on Wednesday and Friday, the franchise that waited 25 long years just to win a first-round playoff series will be one more series win away from playing for the right to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup itself.

"Yeah, I don't know if we even want to start thinking about that because it's so far away," said defenseman Keith Yandle, who had two assists and was a plus-3 in the game. "There's a lot more blood, sweat and tears to give before that.

"We're going to enjoy this win for a little bit, but we know we've got to come out and play hard there. We know how hard it is to play in their building. We've got to rise to the occasion."

So far, that's what they've done.

They surprised Chicago in the first round. Now, they've shocked the Predators and their Vezina Trophy-finalist goalie, Pekka Rinne, into an 0-2 hole.

Just two more hours and it could be on to the Western Conference finals against either the Los Angeles Kings or the St. Louis Blues.

"I don't think we really look that far into the future," said forward Taylor Pyatt, whose second-period goal put Phoenix up 4-2. "It's so cliche, but it's just prepare for the next one, one at a time. That's really what we've done all year."

But they're halfway there. And privately, they can start to taste it.

"It's huge," goalie Mike Smith (30 saves) said of taking a 2-0 series lead. "Obviously, it's the playoffs and anything can happen. But we've got to feel good about where we are right now."

Even if the Coyotes don't manage to sweep this series, they'd be happy to take it in five games, or six, or seven if necessary. They waited 25 years just to get out of the first round. And they're still waiting for their precarious ownership situation to get resolved.

"We've been a group that's just been callous to everything that's been going on around us," captain Shane Doan said. "... Yeah, we're aware of (being up 2-0). You recognize it. But at the same time, we have to be able to just ignore everything that's going on around us like we have the last few years."

The Coyotes are up 2-0, thanks in part to their fourth line of Gilbert Brule, Kyle Chipchura and Daymond Langkow. Their hard work has energized the team - and the Phoenix fans - and they have combined for nine points in the Coyotes' eight playoff games.

Brule has two goals, Chipchura one and while Langkow hasn't found the back of the net, he's chipped in with four assists.

"Those guys are really solid players for us," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "If you look at it, we don't really have matchups. Everybody plays against everybody and everybody's expected to do the job, and those guys have done a heck of a job for us. Not just giving us quality minutes; they're creating chances.

"Look at Brule (on Sunday). He had six shots, three hits and he's also a very tenacious player. When your teammates see things like that, they feed off it. The same thing with Chipchura. He's always in the guts of the game. That's part of our energy. That's what we need from them."

The effectiveness of the fourth line also has enabled Tippett to give Doan, Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata much-needed rest. The result: A fresher team that still has its legs late in the third period.

"You see how fast and how hard the games are right now," Tippett said. "You have to make sure you're not overtaxing anybody. We have had a lot of energy."

Up next

• What: Game 3

• Who: Coyotes at Predators

• When: 6 p.m. Wednesday


Contributing: Scott Bordow, Arizona Republic

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