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Coyotes survive ugly but effective Game 4 for key win over Predators

Leave it to Phoenix goalie Mike Smith. When asked by NBC's Joe Micheletti after Friday's 1-0 Game 4 snoozer how his team keeps pulling off these tough road wins, he voiced what we all were thinking.

"Coyote Ugly," Smith said.

If you weren't already aware that Dave Tippett's teams have never been much for style points, there was no mistake to be made after this game.

How bad was it? A late-night screening of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at the local megaplex started to look like an entertainment upgrade as Phoenix collapsed in its zone and played simply to preserve its one-goal lead over the final forty minutes.

But as dull as it was, it was equally effective. And with the split in Nashville, the Coyotes hold a commanding 3-1 lead and now have the chance to close out the series at home on Monday night.

Safe to say, they'll take the win over critical praise any day.

"The game went exactly how we anticipated," Tippett said. "Tightly contested. A break here or there would give someone an edge, and that's what we got."

To be fair, the Coyotes didn't just get their break. They earned it in a dominant first period that unspooled like a training video for how to win a playoff game on the road. They were aggressive from the opening puck-drop, forechecking hard, winning the battles along the boards and creating high-quality chances that forced Pekka Rinne to make several smart stops early, including a pair off the stick of Mikkel Boedker.

They created the only tally they'd need at the 14:25 mark of the period. Shane Doan, who was credited with the goal, made the play happen by blasting Hal Gill along the boards to free the puck on a Boedker end-around. Doan then picked it up and headed to the slot. He was tracked down there by Gill, but the defenseman's bid to knock it loose instead sent the puck pinwheeling off, up and over Rinne's outstretched pad.

After that, the Predators took advantage of Phoenix's defensive posture and carried the play ... right into the quicksand. They'd carry the puck into the zone and get pushed off to the side or angled into the corners. If the Coyotes won the battle, they'd chip it out and wait for the next sortie. And when the Preds won and tried to get something on Smith, who made just 25 saves on the night, they fired the puck off legs, sticks, sleeping fans or whatever else the Coyotes could secure to muck up the lanes.

It was amazing to see that Phoenix was credited with just 16 blocked shots on the night. They probably deflected twice as many passes, scuttling the majority of Nashville's opportunities before they could be launched. If we've learned anything from this series, it's that the Coyotes don't give you much.

"Our guys did a real good job of defending the key areas," Tippett said. "We were hard around our net. Smitty was hard in goal. That's competitive hockey right there."

Not that the Predators did themselves any favors on the rare occasions when they found some daylight. They were credited with 15 missed shots, five of them off the stick of hard-luck Patric Hornqvist alone. If the team's leading goal-scorer during the regular season gets any sleep tonight after failing to connect on at least three premium, in-close chances, he'll be tortured by dreams of the win that got away.

He won't be alone, of course. Colin Wilson, Brandon Yip, Mike Fisher ... they all had the tying goal on their stick but failed to finish. And the truth of it is you don't deserve to win when you blow gimmes like those. Or when you continually misfire on the power play. Nashville was 0-3 on the night and now is 0-23 at home this spring.

The Preds celebrated putting one behind Smith in the third, but Martin Erat's rebound bid was immediately waved off by referee Dan O'Halloran.

The ruling left Nashville coach Barry Trotz fuming after the game. "[O'Halloran] said that Hornqvist pushed the goaltender into the net. I don't buy that. We've had a couple of those now. It's not really going our way with those."

You have to feel for Trotz, who now will be asked to defend his decision to leave two of his top offensive weapons in the press box on a night his team was blanked. Not that he should have to. There was no good reason to consider dressing either Alexander Radulov or Andrei Kostitsyn after the Predators offered their best effort of the series without their help in Game 3.

And now he's going to have to deal with one or both of them stepping back into the lineup as potential saviors with their season on the line Monday night.

"There's some guys I didn't think played particularly well today," Trotz said. "There'll be some changes. There will be."

Jordin Tootoo is likely to be back in civvies. He took a lazy penalty just 1:30 in that helped propel Phoenix's fast start, and made a couple of bad puck decisions. Matt Halischuk was fine, but after earning just 7:16 worth of ice, he's the other obvious candidate to sit.

But the Preds will need more than softer hands and penitent hearts in the lineup if they hope to extend the series. At this point, they need the will to get the job done.

That's something neither potential reinforcement has demonstrated much of lately.

But it's something the Coyotes have shown in abundance. And that could make for a very exciting night for their fans on Monday.

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