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Home 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs Series preview: Predators vs. Coyotes

Series preview: Predators vs. Coyotes

How they got here…
(3) Coyotes-
WCQ: Beat (6) Blackhawks in 6
(4) Predators-
WCQ: Beat (5) Detroit in 5

Season Series…
Tied 2-2

Previous Playoff Meetings…
First meeting

Tale of the Tape…
Edge: Predators… Outside of one individual – Alexander Radulov – the two offenses are comparable. Then again, Radulov is the lone game-breaker up front for either side.
Edge: Predators… Coyotes have nice depth, but so do the Predators. The difference is Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the league’s best pairing.
Edge: Even… Pekka Rinne’s athleticism is matched by Mike Smith’s positioning. Both were lights out in the first round. This should be fun.
Special Teams-
Edge: Coyotes… An ever-slight advantage goes to Phoenix here – if their stingy penalty kill can keep the Predators’ power play off the board.
Edge: Even… Barry Trotz has never been past the second round; Dave Tippett has one conference final appearance on his resume. Both are solid, underappreciated coaches in their own right.
Edge: Even… Both teams have a nice mix of veterans and youth; neither team has a winning history in the playoffs.
Edge: Even… Hal Gill is expected to return for this series, so neither team has an impact injury otherwise.

Keys to the Series…
1. Frustrate Predators power play… The Coyotes’ penalty kill has been really good all season, but it was great in the first round in killing off all but one of Chicago’s 19 power plays in the series. Nashville had some power play struggles against Detroit, despite holding the top man advantage unit in the NHL. Tippett’s gang needs to continue their success on the penalty kill and frustrate the Predators’ power play.
2. Neutralize Radulov… With each passing game in the first round, the more comfortable Radulov looked for the Predators. The Coyotes have to find a way to limit his effectiveness. They did so with Patrick Kane, who finished with zero goals against them. Radulov, who led the Predators with five first-round points, is a different player and thrives in tight space. Phoenix needs a solution for Radulov.

1. Play with the lead… The Coyotes are really good when they score first, and are a different team when they have to play catch-up. Meanwhile, the Predators never trailed in their four wins against Detroit. Even though Phoenix was susceptible to giving up late leads in the first round, it likely won’t continue. Trotz’s gang needs to play with the lead and force the Coyotes to come back on Rinne.
2. Stay patient… The Predators also need to stay patient. The team they’re playing here in the second round will give up shots; the ‘Yotes gave up 40-plus shots per game in six games against Chicago (outshot each time) and surrendered the third-most shots in the regular season. The thing is, most of the shots come from the outside and they don’t give up many chances. The Predators have to be patient and opportunistic like they were at times against Detroit.

Why the Coyotes will win…
The same reason why they beat Chicago: Mike Smith. Nashville doesn’t pose the offensive threats Chicago does, but these are two evenly matched teams in this series. Whichever teams gets better goaltending, whether it’s Smith or Rinne, will have an advantage in advancing to the conference final. You know what you’re getting from Weber and Suter, but Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are solid defensemen in their own right; they will each need to have a big series for the Coyotes. If they regain focus after the big moment of winning a playoff series for the first time in the desert, there’s no reason to think they can’t beat Nashville.

Why the Predators will win…
They will win this series if they can continue to get contributions all throughout the lineup. They essentially have eight top-six forwards; that depth made a big difference against Detroit. Mike Fisher’s line struggled with production against Detroit, but they won’t be shadowing a player like Pavel Datsyuk throughout this series – so maybe things will open up for that trio. Defensively, getting a healthy Gill back in the lineup can’t do anything but help. The week-long rest could turn into some rust, but Rinne will definitely benefit from the break. Don’t undervalue the ‘different feeling’ in Nashville. This series may mean more to them in the big picture than the Coyotes.

These are two similar teams that like to frustrate their opponents on the forecheck and with less space to operate offensively. These teams have had similar paths to get to where they are now, having to continually prove doubters wrong and overcome off-ice issues in the past (or the current, if you’re Phoenix). The Coyotes and Predators also combined to go 5-0 on the road in the first round, so home-ice advantage doesn’t matter in this series. The Predators are primarily focused on the ultimate prize; I don’t get that same feeling from the Coyotes.
Prediction: Predators in 6

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