May 8, 2012 1:13 AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Mike Smith stopped 32 shots and the Phoenix Coyotes beat the Nashville Predators 2-1 on Monday night to earn their first trip to the Western Conference finals.
The Coyotes learned earlier in the day that a tentative deal with a new owner had been reached.
They followed up with another tight victory, withstanding a late goal by Nashville's Colin Wilson to reach the conference finals for the first time in 33 years as an NHL franchise.
Derek Morris and Martin Hanzal each scored and Smith nearly had an empty-net goal to set off a raucous celebration in the desert. The Coyotes will face the Los Angeles Kings, the first No. 8 seed to knock off Nos. 1 and 2 in the same playoffs.
Nashville fell short of the conference finals for the second straight season despite getting forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn back from two-game suspensions and Wilson's late goal. The Predators hit the post at least three times and managed one goal despite outshooting the Coyotes 33-17.
The Coyotes got some long-awaited good news before the game, when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league had a tentative deal to sell the team to former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison.
There's no official sale agreement yet and Jamison still needs to work out lease details with the city of Glendale, which could be a dicey proposition with conservative watchdog group the Goldwater Institute lurking. Still, after three years of waiting, the move toward ownership and staying in the desert took a big step.
It had already been a great season.
Relying on Smith and their protect-at-all-costs mentality, the unflashy Coyotes won their first division title as an NHL franchise and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 25 years.
Phoenix moved within the brink of the conference finals for the first time by beating Nashville twice in the desert and again in Game 4 on Smith's second shutout of the playoffs.
With Jobing.com Arena juiced and Bettman, not to mention their potential new boss in the house, the Coyotes played their pack-in-and-counter game the way they have all playoffs.
Nashville had the advantage early in tight first period, Phoenix took it late, neither scored.
The Coyotes broke through early in the second, when Pekka Rinne made a kick save on a breakaway by Shane Doan, but couldn't stop Morris' shot from the point after Phoenix reset.
The Predators tried to rally, turning up the pressure.
Instead of the tying goal, they hit the post three times - twice in one rapid-fire sequence - and had another shot blocked by diving Coyotes. Smith also made a snatching save on a wrister by Gabriel Bourque.
Phoenix then went back to its counterattacking ways, with Kyle Chipchura breaking out, holding, then setting up Hanzal's wrister that Rinne couldn't see with a defender in his way.
Up 2-0, the Coyotes packed it in, diving to block shots while giving the Predators only slivers of shooting lanes.
Wilson squeezed a puck through one of them with 5:59 left, flicking a pass from David Legwand past Smith, ending his scoreless streak of more than 160 minutes.
The Coyotes wouldn't let them score again and Smith nearly ended it with a flourish, missing an empty-net by a few inches with 2 seconds left.
It didn't matter at that point - the Coyotes were on their way to the conference finals, capping one of the biggest days in franchise history.