May 8, 2012

West comes down to Yandle's 'Yotes or Quick's Kings

By Jesse Connolly

Thanks to a 2-1, series-clinching victory over the Predators on Monday, the Phoenix Coyotes are on their way to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history. 

Keith Yandle now has 17 points in 22 career playoff games. (Getty Images)

The Coyotes needed just five games to knock off Nashville. After winning the series opener by a score of 4-3 in overtime, Phoenix took Game 2 with a 5-3 win, giving them a 2-0 lead in the conference semifinal matchup heading to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne stopped all 32 shots he faced in Game 3, getting the Predators back in the series with a 2-0 win. But the Coyotes rebounded in Game 4 behind Mike Smith, who had a 25-save shutout in a 1-0 victory.

Phoenix took care of business on home ice Monday night thanks to another stellar effort from Smith, who came within six minutes of earning his second-straight shutout and finished the night with 32 stops on 33 shots.

Though he had a bit of a quiet series with two assists in the five tilts (both of which came in Game 2), Keith Yandle has been a key part of the Coyotes’ run thus far. The Milton, Mass., native is tied with teammate Rostislav Klesla for the league lead in points by a defenseman in the playoffs with seven. Yandle also ranks fifth among defensemen and eighth among all players in the NHL with a plus-6 rating in the postseason.

In the Western Conference finals, he’ll be opposed by a fellow New England native who has received far more acclaim for his playoff performance.

Jonathan Quick backboned the Kings to a stunning series sweep of the St. Louis Blues. After knocking out the Canucks in the first round, the Hamden, Conn., native has now helped Los Angeles vanquish the top two seeds in the Western Conference in a whopping total of nine games.

In the 3-1, series-clinching win on Sunday, Quick stopped 23-of-24 shots. In the four-game set, he allowed just six goals, as Los Angeles outscored St. Louis 15-6 in the series.

Through nine starts, Quick now owns an 8-1 record. His goals-against average of 1.55 and .949 save percentage have only been topped by Vancouver’s Cory Schneider (Marblehead, Mass.), though the Canucks netminder appeared in just three games before being eliminated.

The Coyotes’ Smith is merely a hair behind him, clocking in with a .948 save percentage in his 11 playoff contests, setting up what promises to be a superb goaltending duel when the two teams battle it out for the right to advance to the Stanley Cup finals.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.