NHL Playoffs 2012: Previewing and Predicting Predators vs. Coyotes Game 1

Isaac SmithAnalyst IApril 27, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 23:  Mike Smith #41 of the Phoenix Coyotes moves with the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on April 23, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Coyotes defeated the Blackhawks 4-0 to win the series 4 games to 2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The winner of the Phoenix Coyotes-Nashville Predators series will go to the Conference Finals for a possible shot at going to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Wait. What?

It's not as farfetched as it seemed last year when the Coyotes were swept in the first round by the Detroit Red Wings, and the Predators lost to the Canucks in the conference semifinals.

Tonight, they battle in Game 1 of their best-of-seven conference semifinal series.

Each team plays a tight-checking, excellent goaltending, low-scoring kind of game. But somehow that low scoring has brought them to this point.


The Rundown.

The Coyotes are in foreign territory, having never advanced past the first round of the playoffs.

The Predators are also in foreign territory, as they have never been a favorite in the second round of the playoffs.

Both teams dispatched of high-scoring but defensively challenged teams in the Chicago Blackhawks and the Red Wings respectively.


DETROIT, MI - APRIL 17:  Shea Weber #6 of the Nashville Predators brings the puck up ice in front of Danny Cleary #11 of the Detroit Red Wings during Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Joe Louis A
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Goaltending Battle

But these games will ultimately come down to goaltending and how good Coyotes' Mike Smith can be compared to his opposition, Nashville's Pekka Rinne.

Smith plays a little bit different style than Rinne, but both players are 6'4" or taller and have the speed and size needed to play as No. 1 goaltenders.

If Smith is able to stop as many shots as he did in the last series against Chicago, and the Phoenix players are able to keep Nashville away from the net, this could be a very long series for the Predators.


Defensive Struggles

The main storyline (aside from the goaltenders) is obviously the defensive play in the slot for each team.

Nashville dominated the Red Wings in the first round due to Detroit's inability first to get to the slot offensively and get loose pucks (of which there weren't many against Rinne), but second to defend their own slot.

If Phoenix and coach Dave Tippett have their way, the slot will always have someone in it, and someone will likely be covering the one-timer from Shea Weber at the point.


Coaching Battle

Nashville's Barry Trotz and Tippett are both defensive masterminds. I have to give a little bit more credit to Tippett though, as he is playing with an ownerless team (meaning no really big-name free agents) and has found a way to put Smith in position to make the save.

The home ice will come into play here as the home team gets the last chance, and Phoenix has home ice advantage



The Nashville power play is a big X-factor. In the regular season, the Predators had the league's top-ranked power play at 21.6 percent. By contrast, the Coyotes were ranked 29th with a 13.6 percent conversion rate.

Since the playoffs started, the Predators are at 9.1 percent (third-worst of all playoff teams), while the Coyotes are a whopping 21 percent on the power play.

The X-factors will be the special teams and the ability to stop them. These two teams are pretty much the same team in five-on-five play.


GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 14:  Martin Hanzal #11 of the Phoenix Coyotes walks off the bench past head coach Dave Tippett after Hanzal was injured in the first period of Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Chicago Blackhawks during the
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Nashville will win if...

They get pucks to the net, and pick up rebounds in front of the net. Phoenix would have to completely abandon Tippett's defensive scheme in order to lose like that.

Nashville will also win if Weber blasts his puck from the blue line and puts it on goal regularly. Nashville will need some traffic in front of the net

Nashville needs solid games from Rinne, but as of right now the focus is on getting the offense going, and getting scoring chances from down low on Smith.


Coyotes will win if...

Smith has another big series left in him.

Smith shut down the high-powered offense of the Blackhawks and led the Coyotes to the first series win in franchise history.

The Coyotes will win if they out-hit and out-tough the Predators. This might be the hardest thing that Phoenix has to do, but if Weber and Ryan Suter are right on the doorstep, it wouldn't be too far to assume that Phoenix needs to out hit Nashville to have a chance in this game, they cannot let the Predators take it to them physically.


Game Prediction

Mark this one by a score of 3-2 Coyotes.


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