The first thing that comes to mind when breaking down the upcoming Western Conference Semifinals series between the Predators and Coyotes is how similar the two teams are. Both rely on systematic approaches. Both have good, underappreciated coaches behind the bench. Both have more depth than star power.
Oh yeah, both have outstanding goaltending.
The first round in the Western Conference was dominated by goaltending, featuring Coyotes netminder Mike Smith and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne. The two goalies combined to post a .948 save percentage and were the best players in their respective first-round series.
Also, Rinne grabbed his second consecutive Vezina Trophy nomination on Wednesday, but Smith was deserving of being a finalist as well.
Simply put, this second-round series between the Predators and Coyotes will be highlighted by the goaltending duel between Rinne and Smith.
“Goals will probably be hard to come by; by the way both of these goaltenders have played so far,” said Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett.
Rinne stonewalled Detroit in the first round, putting up a 1.81 goals-against average and .944 save percentage. He was particularly great in Detroit for Games Three and Four – both of which were wins – as he made a combined 81 saves on 84 shots against.
“I know him personally; he’s a great guy, but unbelievable goalie, just an athletic guy that competes as hard as everyone out there,” said Smith.
Smith has been equally as good as Rinne, if not better, as the Coyotes eliminated a high-powered Chicago team in six games. Facing 40 shots per game, Smith boasted a .950 save percentage in the first round. His biggest highlight came in Game Six when he had a 39-save shutout to finish off Chicago.
“He’s been doing a great, great job,” Rinne said of Smith, who was the biggest factor in the Coyotes making the playoffs.
The similar styles of play could result in low-scoring games this series, but it’s nothing new for either team. Both the Predators and Coyotes played in tightly-contested, low-scoring games in the first round, and they are prepared to do so again.
“You would think it will be a low-scoring series and you have to be comfortable in that, but nothing surprises me in the playoffs,” said Predators head coach Barry Trotz. “If you would have told me Philadelphia and Pittsburgh would combine for 108 goals in five games, I wouldn’t have said that.”
The most recent regular season meeting between these two teams came on March 12th in Phoenix, where the Predators won 5-4 in a shootout. So the potential is there for the scoring to be higher than expected.
In all likelihood, though, goals will indeed be hard to come by in this series. Rinne and Smith have been exceptional all year and even better in the playoffs – not to mention the low number of mistakes either team has had, or the high execution level for both teams within their respective systems.
The series promises to be a close battle, with the winner advancing to their first-ever Western Conference final.
“Two great goalies going at it. It will be a lot of fun for them, I’m sure,” Nashville’s Ryan Suter said. “Hopefully we can get a few by (Smith).”
Coyotes captain Shane Doan said, “It’s going to come down to the little things, you find other ways to win, another group of players will find ways to contribute, whether it’s scoring a big goal or making a big play defensively. It doesn’t matter – it’s going to be a tight series.”