How They Got Here
Phoenix — The Coyotes reached the second round of the postseason after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. That series was a battle of attrition, as five of the six contests required overtime before they were resolved — three of which were won by Phoenix. Also, the Coyotes went 1-2 at home, but were an impressive 3-0 at the United Center.
Nashville – Arguably the most impressive series victory of the first round came in the Predators stomping of the Detroit Red Wings. Nashville won both games they played at Joe Louis Arena and cruised to the conference semi-finals in five games, which meant the first time the ‘Wings were eliminated in the opening round since the 2005-2006 season.
Regular season series was TIED, 2-2.
Oct 13th — Phoenix 5, Nashville 2
Nov 3rd — Nashville 3, Coyotes 0
Dec 6th — Phoenix 3, Nashville 2
Mar 12th – Nashville 5, Phoenix 4 (Shootout)
Keys to the Series
1. Who Can Protect Home Ice?
For these two clubs, winning at home is anything but a common occurrence — at least recently. However, success on the road is almost a given. Take for example the performance of Phoenix and Nashville in the first round as they combined to go 5-0 at the arena’s of their opponents — keep in mind that the United Center and Joe Louis Arena are two of the toughest buildings in hockey. And, in the four matchups between these clubs in the regular season, the road team won every contest. With that being said, it’s safe to say that the winner of this series will likely be the team that wins the most games at home.
2. Pekka Rinne vs. Mike Smith
As you will notice with most of the matchups in the second round, two outstanding goaltenders are squaring off. In this series in particular, the battle will be between the Predators’ Rinne and the Coyotes’ Smith. This could be a dandy, as both guys gave up well below two goals per game in the opening round to opponents that had highly ranked offensive units. However, you may have also deduced from the scores of the earlier matchups that neither netminder was at his best when these teams met during the season — Smith’s goals against average was nearly four, while Rinne’s was just under three. So, it will obviously be interesting to see which guy can step up when it matters most.
3. Oh, The Penalty Box…
Doesn’t it seem fitting to take the league’s best offensive team on the power play (Nashville) and pit them up against one of the premier penalty killing forces (Phoenix)? The Predators converted on nearly 22 percent of power plays in the regular season and secured a couple of PP tallies in the series with Detroit. This is truly where their offense is at its best. But, the Coyotes were not only top 10 in the NHL on the penalty kill during the season, they were unbeatable in the six games with the Blackhawks. In fact, Phoenix surrendered one goal in 19 opportunities, which is a conversion rate just above five percent. I believe whichever side wins this battle will immediately hold the upper hand in each game.
Player to Watch
Alexander Radulov, Right Wing, Nashville Predators
After playing in just nine games and recording just seven points in the regular season, Radulov emerged as the Predators top scorer in the opening round victory over the Red Wings. He picked up one crucial goal in the series clinching triumph and then added another four assists along the way. This was a very happy site for Nashville fans, but now the question becomes can his hot streak carry over to round two. It’s a given that he’ll bring energy and hard work to the ice, but filling up the scoresheet is perhaps a different story. The Predators certainly have a lot of scoring options though — Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Martin Erat, ect. –, so I wouldn’t say that it is a necessity that he continues to play at this level; but if he does, expect it to boost Nashville into the conference finals.
This should be another excellent series, but for me the choice comes down to the defensive talent that the Nashville Predators possess. I mean, not only do they have Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne, but they are loaded with big and athletic defenseman that can both score and play the puck in the defensive zone. The best examples of this are obviously Suter and Weber, who combined for nearly 100 points in the regular season. Over a seven game series they’ll find a way to outplay the Coyotes typically stingy defense.
Predators advance, 4 games to 2