NHL Playoffs 2012: 4 Players Who Need to Step Up for the Coyotes

Isaac SmithAnalyst IMay 3, 2012

NHL Playoffs 2012: 4 Players Who Need to Step Up for the Coyotes

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    The Phoenix Coyotes have a chance to take a three-games-to-none lead tonight when they visit the Nashville Predators for Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal.

    Phoenix has a chance to put Nashville on the brink, but in order to win tonight's contest, they need to play a complete 60-minute, team game.

    Earlier this week, I addressed the changes the Coyotes must make heading into Game 3, but this article will be about four players who need to step up tonight or, more simply, need to maintain their level of play.

1. Mike Smith

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    The fact that Mike Smith is the answer in goal for the Coyotes may surprise many, as Smith has never really seemed to be a definite No. 1 goalie.

    But this year, with a 93.0 save percentage, a 2.21 GAA, a 38-18-10 record and eight shutouts, Mike Smith has stolen the No. 1 job in Phoenix.

    More importantly, Mike Smith led the Coyotes to the franchise's first playoff series win in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks.

    He has been the beneficiary of the Coyotes scoring first in both games in Phoenix, but he has also done his share to hold his team in this series, including being out-shot 16-1 in the third period of Game 1 and yielding just one goal.

    A solid effort tonight from Mike Smith would go a long way to sealing a Coyotes' win.

2. Shane Doan

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    Shane Doan had a goal and an assist last game. He has been a great player for the Coyotes in all zones of the game, as a plus-three player.

    Doan has never played in the second round of the playoffs throughout his 16-season NHL career, but anyone watching would be unable to notice a lack of inexperience.

    Doan leads by throwing punishing hits and getting to the net for rebounds.

    Despite his four points in eight games, Doan has led by example, giving his team a third period insurance goal in Game 2.

    He must bring his hitting game on the road in Nashville if the Coyotes hope to stay in this game physically and mentally.

3. Antoine Vermette

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    Ask Antoine Vermette what he has been doing during games this postseason and he'll point to his shooting percentage.

    It's 38.5 percent to be exact, or five goals on 13 shots.

    In eight games played this postseason, Vermette has almost half of his regular season goals total (11) and has been deadly when given a chance to shoot.

    Vermette has been clutch for the Coyotes in the postseason with four points in his last three games.

    He is a big part of the Coyotes success on the power play with three power play goals during the postseason.

    A goal tonight would go a long way to getting the Coyotes' offense off and running.

4. Derek Morris

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    The Phoenix Coyotes are made up of essentially a bunch of players who have been bounced around the league.

    Derek Morris is no exception.

    Morris has played for five different NHL teams and amassed over 1,000 games in the NHL, but he's still playing big-time minutes and doing fairly well in those minutes.

    He won't be a big contributor offensively, (two assists in eight playoff games), but his stay at home defenseman persona cannot be beaten.

    Morris has 24 shot blocks and 22 hits in eight games.

    The 1996 first-round pick has been shutting down the opposition's top players. This may not seem as important against Nashville's forwards, but in the first round, this included the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa (before he was injured).

    Morris gives his goaltender, Mike Smith, a chance to make the save, and Smith has been able to see most of what has been shot in his direction. And because of that, he has been making the saves.