Two of the game's best coaches and two of the game's best goaltenders will go head-to-head in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Indeed, goals will be hard to come by as the Coyotes and Predators will meet in a Western Conference Semifinal after the Phoenix franchise advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 25 years with Monday's 4-0 win at Chicago.
Each team won twice during its four-game, regular-season series. The Coyotes, though, went 2-1-1 as it dropped a 5-4 shootout decision to Nashville on March 12.
Both teams finished in the top 10 in the League in goals allowed per game. Phoenix, led by coach Dave Tippett and goaltender Mike Smith, finished fifth at 2.37 goals per game. Some felt the Coyotes were in trouble after losing Ilya Bryzgalov last summer, but Smith has been a rock between the pipes for Phoenix all season long.
Nashville, guided by world-class netminder Pekka Rinne, ranked 10th at 2.50 goals per game. An eighth-round draft pick (No. 258) in 2004, Rinne reached the 40-win plateau for the first time this season while recording five shutouts.
Not much has changed this postseason. The Predators disposed of the Detroit Red Wings in five games, as Rinne allowed just nine goals in five games while boasting a .944 save percentage.
Rinne has a very formidable opponent in Round 2, as Smith has been nothing short of sensational for Phoenix. Smith stopped all 39 shots he faced in Monday's series-clinching 4-0 win at Chicago and boasted a 1.81 goals-against average in six games against the Blackhawks with a .950 save percentage.
Two of the game's best leaders will go head-to-head in this series. Phoenix captain Shane Doan has been with the club since being drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in 1995, one year before the franchise relocated to the desert. Shea Weber, meanwhile, has emerged as the go-to guy in the Nashville dressing room and is unquestionably one of the top defensemen in the League.
Alex Radulov has played a huge role for Nashville since returning from the KHL in March. The Russian forward had a goal and four assists against the Red Wings in the opening round after going 3-4-7 in nine games down the stretch. With Radulov on board, the Preds were able to secure the No. 4 seed and home-ice advantage against Detroit.
They won't have home-ice advantage in Round 2, however. Despite some fierce competition, Phoenix managed to secure the No. 3 seed with a record of 42-27-13. While the Predators finished with seven more points, the Coyotes were able to claim the Pacific Division crown.
Phoenix went 22-13-6 on home ice during the regular season, while Nashville finished 22-16-3 on the road.
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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