PREDATORS at COYOTES
TV: NBCSN, TSN
Season Series: Road-ice advantage has been a big theme of the Stanley Cup Playoffs so far, and that could continue in this series. Nashville and Phoenix met four times during the regular season and the visiting team won each time. The Predators got goals from 11 different players, while 10 scored for the Coyotes. One factor to consider is that Jason LaBarbera started the first three games in goal for Phoenix -- the only time Nashville faced Mike Smith was in the series finale on March 12, when the Predators recorded a 5-4 shootout win.
Big Story: As in the other Western Conference Semifinal series between St. Louis and Los Angeles, this one features a tremendous goaltending matchup as Smith squares off against Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne. Smith's eight shutouts ranked third in the NHL this season, while no goalie won more than Rinne's 43 games. That isn't to say Phoenix and Nashville got here solely on the strength of their netminders. Mikkel Boedker scored overtime goals in consecutive games of the Coyotes' first-round win over the Blackhawks, while rookie Gabriel Bourque emerged as a scoring sensation as the Predators disposed of the Red Wings.
Predators: For the second straight season, Nashville has won a playoff series and finds itself in the second round. But this time the Predators needed only five games to advance past a team that has been among the League's elite for the past two decades; and unlike last year, when their next opponent was the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks, many will consider the Predators to be favorites in their matchup with the Coyotes.
They got balanced scoring in the first round, as eight players scored at least one goal and 15 registered at least one point. Rinne posted a 1.81 goals-against average and .944 save percentage.
The Predators will have had six days between games, allowing some time for rest and relaxation, but they've also been working on areas that were trouble spots against the Wings -- like a power play that, at 9.1 percent, has the worst conversion rate of any of the eight teams still competing for the Cup.
"Last series it seemed early on in the series we lost a lot of momentum on the power play and we can't afford to do that," defenseman Ryan Suter said.
Coyotes: This is unchartered territory for Phoenix, which had never won a playoff round prior to defeating Chicago. In fact, it had been 25 years since the franchise last advanced in the postseason, dating back to its days in Winnipeg.
The Coyotes spent much of their series against the Blackhawks playing from in front, but due to an inability to close out games had to endure the first five games of the series going overtime, tying a 61-year-old NHL record. Martin Hanzal provided the heroics in the opener, Boedker did the damage in both Games 3 and 4 in Chicago, and after Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews disappointed the white-clad Jobing.com Arena crowd when the Coyotes had a chance to advance in Game 5, they finally took care of business in 60 minutes on Monday, as Smith stopped all 39 shots he faced and an Oliver Ekman-Larsson goal was followed by three more in the third period for a 4-0 victory.
"Mike Smith was awesome," defenseman Keith Yandle said. "He was unbelievable the whole series and for us to go deep, we're going to need him to be great. We expect him to play the way that he has, and we're going to play hard in front of him. But you know you're going to get 100 percent from him every night."
Who's Hot: Antoine Vermette led the Coyotes in the first round with four goals -- three of which came on the power play. Yandle had five assists. … Alexander Radulov has one goal and four assists during a four-game points streak. His five points pace the Predators in playoff scoring. David Legwand has goals in consecutive games.
Injury Report: Nashville defenseman Hal Gill missed the entire first round with a lower-body injury. His status for Game 1 is uncertain. … Phoenix defenseman Rostislav Klesla and Michal Rozsival were banged up during the series finale against Chicago. Klesla suffered an injury to his face in the opening minutes, but later returned wearing a full cage. Rozsival needed stitches inside his mouth after being checked from behind by Jimmy Hayes, who received a boarding major and game misconduct.
Stat Pack: Predators defenseman Francis Bouillon is tied with Flyers forward Claude Giroux for the postseason lead in plus/minus with a plus-6 rating, while teammates Radulov, Legwand and Bourque as well as the Coyotes' Yandle were among a handful of players right behind at plus-5. … At even strength, the Predators scored 2.75 goals for every goal allowed in the first round, by far the best ratio in the League. … The Coyotes have the top penalty kill in the playoffs at 94.7 percent.
Puck Drop: Phoenix also gave up the highest average shot total in the first round, as Smith faced 40.2 pucks per game. Even with all the overtime play factored in, that's much more than a defensive-minded coach like Dave Tippett can be happy with, and probably not a recipe for success when it comes to beating Nashville and continuing to advance in the playoffs.
"We definitely think there's another level that we need to get to," captain Shane Doan said. "You look at our group of forwards up front; we got unbelievable contributions from everybody (in the first round). It seems like everyone stepped up and was helpful and did their jobs, but nobody really went beyond what we expect of them, and we're going to need guys to go beyond what you expect of guys. That's what the playoffs are all about."