Even when people picked the Preds to win the series, no one expected it’d last just five games. Unlike the St. Louis-LA series, in which both teams like to keep possession of the puck, this series is the exact opposite, with Nashville just ahead of Minnesota for second-worst FenClose and Phoenix just behind Toronto. The biggest reason why the Coyotes find themselves in round two is because of Mike Smith (arguable Vezina snub), but this time he has Pekka Rinne (Vezina nominee) across the ice instead of Corey Crawford.
The Coyotes’ rope-a-dope strategy worked against Chicago because they knew they could capitalize on scoring chances with Crawford. Remember at one point in game six the Blackhawks peppered Smith with 28 shots in the first two periods before the Coyotes made a late charge and scored three goals on 11 shots in the final frame. That kind of strategy won’t work against Nashville and 20 shots on Rinne won’t get the job done. Smith needs to stand on his head for the Coyotes to just have a fighting chance. Even Dave Tippett knows that relying on Smith just won’t “cut it” (his words).
Special teams is another aspect to watch, as the Preds finished first in the regular season on the powerplay while the Coyotes ranked 29th. But the Preds powerplay struggled in the first round while the Coyotes’ flourished, so what’s going to happen now is anyone’s guess. But there’s no shortage of new weapons either, with the Preds having Alex Radulov and the Coyotes benefitting from the coming out party of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who was easily their best player in Game 6 vs. Chicago.
I just don’t think the Coyotes have enough depth to match Nashville, and keep in mind that Nashville played the entire first round without the services of Hal Gill. Not sure when Gill will return to the Predators lineup, but if he does, it’s just one more challenge for the Coyotes before trying to beat Rinne.
The real question is, however, how many overtimes will the West semi-finals feature? 6? 8? And which series will have more?