|The teams split the season series with the road team winning all four games. (Getty Images)|
Go back a couple of years and you would laugh at the idea of the Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes meeting in the second round of the playoffs. After all, Jim Balsillie attempted to buy each of these franchises in the last few years.
But here they are, meeting in Round 2 after dispatching Original Six franchises in the first round (Nashville beating Detroit in five games, Phoenix over Chicago in six games). The Coyotes, who still don't know for sure where they will play next season, still carry the underdog tag. They weren't expected to get by Chicago in the first round by many people. They weren't really even expected to make the playoffs this season, yet they won the Pacific Division for the first time in franchise history.
As for the Predators? The underdog tag is gone. They have been building and building slowly, getting to the point there were expectations in the preseason that have gone even higher since this season began. The Preds are better built to win now than they ever have been, and there is a sense of urgency to get it done with Ryan Suter and, to a lesser extent, Shea Weber having uncertain futures with the franchise.
So no, this isn't a David vs. David situation (but I wouldn't call the Predators Goliath either). It is, though, two little engines that could. One of them will. Although it is kind of ironic that coyotes are predators, amirite?
On to the preview!
PHO Offense vs. NSH Defense
During the regular season, the Coyotes were below average offensively. They showed traces of why in the first round, failing to come anywhere close to the Blackhawks in shots. But something must be said about their ability to score on the chances they get. They scored at least three goals in five of the six games.
But the Predators defense isn't the Blackhawks defense. And if Chicago was giving the Coyotes little, I wonder what the Preds, with Weber, Suter and hopefully for them a healthy Hal Gill will do.
NSH Offense vs. PHO Defense
In past seasons this entry would read almost exactly the same as the one above. However the Predators have found more offense this season, finishing eighth in the NHL this season. They had 15 players rack up at least 20 points this season and another one, Gabriel Bourque, had 19 in 43 games. Oh, and Bourque had three goals in the first round. X factor?
Phoenix though makes its money on keeping pucks out of the back of its net. They finished fifth in the league this season in goals against but were 28th in shots against per game. That means one of two things (OK, both), they have very good goaltending and they keep shots to outside the danger zones.
It doesn't get much better than this, two of the best goaltenders in the league this season going head to head. It's no stretch at all to say this is what will dictate the series, especially true when looking at Phoenix's chances.
It's fair to say that the reason why the Coyotes are here is because of Mike Smith. He was absolutely phenomenal against the Blackhawks. But don't slight Pekka Rinne in this conversation at all. He essentially stole two games for Nashville in Detroit in the first round too. Great goalie vs. great goalie is a push.
A quick did you know: Pekka Rinne's .944 save percentage in the playoffs is the lowest of the four remaining goalies in the West.
Well during the season Nashville had the league's best power play. It failed to really click in the first round against Detroit, scoring in just two of 22 chances. Phoenix had the second-worst PP during the season but fifth best in the first round, going 4-for-19. Go figure.
There isn't much deficiency on either side to talk about on the PK, both teams do it well. The Coyotes did it best in the first round, giving up just one goal in 19 kills. Nashville was in the top 10 in the regular season but again did struggle some vs. Detroit allowing four goals on 23 tries.
With all that said, I'll stick with the sample size the season gave us and assume regressions to the mean, thus sticking with a slight edge to the Preds.