NHL Playoffs: Have the Phoenix Coyotes Become Dark-Horse Stanley Cup Contenders?

Isaac SmithAnalyst IMay 4, 2012

NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 04:  Antoine Vermette #50 of the Phoenix Coyotes and Matt Halischuk #24 fight for the puck behind goalie Mike Smith #41 in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bridgestone Arena on May 2, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The NHL playoffs have a surprise dark-horse contender.

The Phoenix Coyotes.

With unpredictability reigning in the first round of the playoffs, the Coyotes see little point in stopping the madness now.

By unpredictability, of course, I reference Stanley Cup favorites like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

The Phoenix Coyotes are looking to add the Nashville Predators to the list of eliminated teams after a 1-0 shutout in Game 4 of their series with the Predators.

But how do the Coyotes continue to come out on top in close games?

Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith summed it up very well when he said, "Coyote ugly."

Indeed, the Coyotes only gave up 25 shots on goal, blocking another 16 Nashville shots and watching many others simply miss the net.

The Coyotes, who many wrote off in their first-round series with the Chicago Blackhawks, simply refuse to go away and refuse to break.

The main reason for the Coyotes' confidence and level of effort that the Coyotes have given on the ice thus far stands between the pipes in Smith.

Smith has two shutouts in 10 playoff games, both coming in the last five games. He continues to make saves and give the Coyotes a chance to win.

The Phoenix offense has done little since Game 2 in Phoenix. They have just a single goal in Nashville, but they also have them heading home with a 3-1 series lead and a chance to close it out on Monday in Game 5.

Phoenix will be hard pressed to find home wins if they advance to play in the conference finals if the Los Angeles Kings (up 3-0 against St. Louis) finish the St. Louis Blues off.

Los Angeles has not lost on the road in this postseason, improving to 5-0 after taking both games in St. Louis.

Phoenix has shut down offensive teams before (Chicago) and has not really had trouble beating a team with a hot goaltender (Nashville's Pekka Rinne).

The question will be whether Phoenix can conquer both a hot offense (in the Los Angeles Kings) and a hot goaltender (Jonathan Quick) at the same time.

Phoenix has been playing as the No. 3 seed in the West, and they will have home-ice advantage for the conference finals if they finish the Predators.

If Phoenix can beat Chicago and Nashville, they will have a very good chance of defeating the Los Angeles Kings in the next round, assuming that they can keep the big bodies of the Kings away from the net of Smith.

The Coyotes might have to get "Coyote ugly," but it won't matter if they manage to pick up some more wins en route to a Stanley Cup finals appearance.


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