Friday, April 11, 2014
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Predators Damage Coyotes' Playoff Bid

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[April 11, 2014]  NASHVILLE, Tenn.  Dave Tippett's face said it all.

It was as grim as the Phoenix Coyotes' postseason hopes, which are now out of their hands.

"The roller-coaster continues," the Phoenix coach said. "It's where we are."

The Nashville Predators applied the latest blow on Thursday night, handing the skidding Coyotes their sixth straight loss with a 2-0 shutout at sold-out Bridgestone Arena.

Center Craig Smith and right winger Patric Hornqvist each bagged their 21st goals and goaltender Pekka Rinne stopped 29 shots for his second shutout as Nashville (36-32-12) improved to 7-1-2 in its last 10 games.

Phoenix fell to 36-29-15 and stayed two points behind Dallas for the last Western Conference playoff spot with two games left. But the Stars, who have more wins, can eliminate the Coyotes with a victory over the St. Louis Blues on Friday night.

After starting 14-4-3 and remaining in a comfortable playoff position most of the season, the Coyotes have slumped at the worst possible time. With injuries costing them key players, they have scored only seven goals in their losing streak.

"It's not a very comfortable position," Phoenix defenseman Michael Stone said. "We've been getting some points, but we're not getting the extra point."

There were no points from this one as Phoenix followed a solid first 10 minutes by doing next to nothing until the third period. It failed to put a shot on Rinne for the first 16:20 of the second period.

By then, the Predators scored the only goal they would need. With center Rob Klinkhammer in the box for an offensive-zone minor  he high-sticked defenseman Ryan Ellis at 8:37 of the second period  Smith took Ellis' pass and whipped a 39-foot wrister past goalie Thomas Griess at 10:26.

"The try was certainly there," Tippett said, "but we weren't generating any speed and didn't have many chances to score."

Chasing the game in the final 20 minutes, the Coyotes peppered Rinne (9-10-3) with 15 shots. But the Finnish netminder stopped them all, including a point-blank save on left winger Mikkel Boedker during a late power play that had Phoenix players slumping their shoulders in frustration during a stoppage.

It was the 162nd career win for Rinne, allowing him to pass Tomas Vokoun for the franchise's career lead.

"It feels good," Rinne said. "It had a lot of meaning, too. It was a huge game for them."

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Nashville tacked on an insurance goal at 9:21 as Hornqvist stuffed the rebound of his shot past Griess at the goal-mouth for his seventh goal in six games, allowing him to tie Smith and defenseman Shea Weber for the team lead.

The Predators were eliminated from playoff consideration with a shootout loss in Dallas on Tuesday night but clearly suffered no letdown with nothing at stake save for contractual obligations and personal pride.

"There were no passengers on the bus tonight," Predators coach Barry Trotz said.

Meanwhile, all Phoenix can do is sweat out a fretful Friday and hope St. Louis can give it a chance to make its last two games  the Coyotes host the San Jose Sharks and the Stars on Saturday and Sunday night, respectively  meaningful.

"We put ourselves in a bad spot," Coyotes right winger and team captain Shane Doan said. "We've got to be ready for our last two games and hopefully, we have a chance."

Griess (9-8-5) finished with 21 saves.

NOTES: Phoenix RW Martin Erat played in his 800th NHL game but his first in Bridgestone Arena as a visitor. Erat, who was drafted by Nashville in the seventh round in 1999, played 723 games with the Predators before being traded to Washington last April. He was dealt to the Coyotes on March 4. ... Nashville has four 20-goal scorers (C Mike Fisher, RW Patric Hornqvist, C Craig Smith and D Shea Weber) for the first time since the 2007-08 season. ... Phoenix G Mike Smith missed his eighth straight game with a lower-body injury. D David Schlemko and C Martin Hanzal also sat out with lower-body injuries. ... Predators D Roman Josi is one of two NHL defensemen with three shootout goals this season. St. Louis D Kevin Shattenkirk is the other.

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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