For so long, the Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes felt intrinsically linked. Nashville always did more with less, relying on a defensive system, strong goaltending and disciplined coaching.
Since Dave Tippett took over Phoenix in 2009-10, the Coyotes have championed the same type of organizational structure. Both play in Sun Belt cities, and both have had to deal with ownership issues.
The Predators almost moved to Hamilton in the summer of 2007. The Coyotes, which are owned by the NHL, are still dealing with a management situation in flux.
In years past it would be mirror images playing in a series. But not this year.
The Predators made several moves at the trade deadline to take an "all-in" approach. They brought back Alexander Radulov from the Continental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia and turned into a highly skilled team. Phoenix has kept with the same model and the same mold. Both have proved successful in different ways. One will come out on top in the second round.
"We realize they're going to be a good team, but from our end, we've got to try to make sure we play our game, play to our identity and we need everybody to contribute," Tippett said. "Obviously Smitty [Mike Smith] has played well in goal for us, we need for that to continue. I think this will be a very close, very competitive series."
If there is one certainty from this series, is that the winner will carry historical significance. Neither team has made it into the Western Conference final in their franchise's existence. This series will be the Coyotes' first, second-round series in the desert. This is Nashville's second foray past the first round in seven playoff appearances.
"I don't know who is supposed to be favoured. They have the home ice advantage," Predators general manager David Poile said. "We've watched all their games, we've had scouts at all their games. We know what their strengths are. I don't think they have any weaknesses."
In looking at the team's season series, it's hard to glean any sort of symmetry from the matchups to predict an outcome.
In their first game of the season, Nashville started the long-departed Niclas Bergfors on a line with Nick Spaling and Sergei Kostitsyn. In the second game, Jonathon Blum and Blake Geoffrion hooked up for the game-winning goal. Blum is now in Milwaukee and Geoffrion was traded to Montreal for Hal Gill.
From a Phoenix perspective, playoff leading scorer Antoine Vermette played one game against Nashville this season for the Coyotes. Jason LaBarbera started three in goal.
"We have enough video over the last playoff series and the games at the end of the year," defenceman Shea Weber said in regards to scouting the Coyotes. "Like the Detroit series, both teams are going to be making changes as the series goes on and adjusting to one another."
The main matchup this series will be goaltending. Pekka Rinne stole two games in Detroit in the last series, stopping 81 of 84 shots in both contests. He has a 1.81 goals-against average and .944 save percentage. Not to be outdone, Smith also has a 1.81 GAA and .950 save percentage.
"I'm sure both teams will be talking about the same thing, you've got to get pucks on net and you've got to have people in front of the goaltenders and hope you get some second chances," Tippett said. "Goals will probably be hard to come by; by the way both of these goaltenders have played so far. You've got to find ways to score, that's the reality of the situation."
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