The Phoenix Coyotes beat the visiting Nashville Predators 5-3 on Sunday without their signature playoff drama to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semi-finals.
The third-seeded Coyotes have relied on overtime triumphs and heroics from goaltender Mike Smith to reach the second round for the first time in franchise history, but they needed only a dominant second period to tighten their grip on the best-of-seven series.
Martin Hanzal, whose assist set up the overtime game-winner in the series opener on Friday, led from the front with a goal in a second period in which Radim Vrbata and Taylor Pyatt also scored to put the home side up 4-2.
“We didn’t totally rely on [Smith], but he was huge again for us,” said Phoenix winger Shane Doan, who notched the game’s final goal in the third period. “We’ve had the lead in the third in a few games, but haven’t played the way we wanted to. Tonight was a little closer to that.”
The Predators will try to claw back into the series beginning with Game 3 tomorrow in Nashville.
They briefly pulled within 4-3 on Ryan Suter’s score early in the third, but Doan quickly halted their momentum with his late tip-in.
Pekka Rinne made 34 saves for the Predators and Smith made 30 stops on a night he did not have to carry the load.
In Eastern Conference action, post-season performer Danny Briere scored two goals, including the overtime winner, to propel the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils in Game 1 of their semi-final series.
Briere, who had scored 104 points in 103 playoff games leading into the game, blasted a shot from the point 4 minutes, 36 seconds into overtime to continue his outstanding post-season record.
The goal came two minutes after he had a power-play goal waved off when officials ruled he had kicked the puck into the net.
“When I was young, I always dreamed that one day I would have the chance to be there [in the playoffs],” he said. “Now that I am there, I just want to take every opportunity that I have, every game that I can get in.”
The right wing also scored in the second period to level the score at 1-1, with James van Riemsdyk adding another for Philadelphia 37 seconds later.
Claude Giroux collected his seventh goal of the playoffs for Philadelphia four minutes into the third period.
New Jersey’s Zach Parise opened he scoring early in the first period, while Travis Zajac and Petr Sykora added goals in the second and third respectively.
Flyers netminder Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 23 shots, with Martin Brodeur making 32 saves for the Devils.
The teams, who split six games in the regular season, remain in Philadelphia for Game 2.
“We haven’t made excuses as a club all year,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said.
“It is what it is. We just have to get ready for Game 2,” he said.