It turns out all the Coyotes really needed was a good Canadian boy to play net for them. With Ilya Bryzgalov off making twice as much as he’s worth, the Coyotes decided to pick up Smith as a free-agent for a two-year contract worth $2 million. With Bryzgalov posting average numbers this season (.909 SV% and 2.48 GAA) in Philadelphia, Smith excelled as the starter in Phoenix, playing 67 saves and posting a sparking .930 SV%. He was also able to do what ‘Bryz’ was not able to do in his whole career with the Desert Dogs, get them to the second round. Smith led his team to the Western Conference semifinals for the first time in 25 years with a .950SV% in a 6 game series over the Chicago Blackhawks, who are only two years removed from their Stanley Cup win in 2010. Now with a 2-0 series lead against the Nashville Predators, the Coyotes are feeling good about their chances.
After losing two straight years in the first round to perennial powerhouse Detroit, the Coyotes drew a more favourable match up this year against the ‘Hawks, and they used it to their advantage.
Led by the ageless Ray Whitney in the regular season with 77 points in 82 games, the Coyotes feature no true superstars. They have a number of very good players, but no one to the caliber of Patrick Kane or Shea Weber, two of the star players that they have faced this postseason.However, they are able to win through grit and going to the dirty areas of the ice. What they lack in talent, they make up for in work ethic. With 2010 Jack Adams Trophy winner Dave Tippett behind the bench, the Coyotes employ a system that incorporates strong defense and goaltending with hard work.
With Preds forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn sitting out game 3, look for Phoenix to take a 3-0 stranglehold on the series tomorrow night. I realize that I did pick Nashville to win the series in 7 games, but I seem to not be too great on those judgement calls. Nevertheless, I correctly said that Radulov was a player to watch. With him sitting out in a pivotal game, the Coyotes could put the Predators in a hole that only 3 teams in history have come back from. The only question I have is, who will accept the Cup as owner when the Coyotes win Lord Stanley’s trophy?