COYOTES at PREDATORS
(Phoenix leads best-of-seven series, 2-0)
TV: CNBC, TSN, RDSI
Big Story: Nashville turned some heads with its impressive five-game ousting of the Detroit Red Wings in the opening round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but after becoming a sexy pick to come out of the West among the conference's four remaining teams, the Preds suddenly find themselves in a 2-0 hole as they return home hoping to even the series at two games apiece against the suddenly hot Coyotes.
Coyotes: Phoenix had typically been one of those lightly-regarded franchises that even when it reached the postseason was expected to do little with the opportunity. This season, the Coyotes surprised many when they managed to win the competitive Pacific Division, but even after getting a tough draw that pitted them against the talented Chicago Blackhawks, the Coyotes have done away with their first-round opponent and are suddenly just two wins from their first-ever conference finals appearance since joining the NHL -- including the 17 seasons the franchise spent in Winnipeg.
The circumstance in which Phoenix finds itself is even more remarkable considering how the offense has come alive in the first two games of the team's series against Nashville. The Predators are a team that has relied on lockdown defense and superior goaltending, but a strong two games from Martin Hanzal and Antoine Vermette, among others, has managed to crack Nashville's fortifications to the tune of nine goals in two games. That task will become tougher as the series shifts to Music City, but after a series against the Hawks won largely on the overtime brilliance of goalie Mike Smith, it's showing he's far from the only piece to the Coyotes' puzzle.
Predators: Nashville's dominant series win over the Red Wings suddenly seems long in the past after an overtime loss in Game 1 against the Coyotes and a surprising 5-3 defeat in Game 2. The Preds may be banking on a return home to Bridgestone Arena, where they went 26-10-5 in the regular season, to recharge their batteries, but that order got much taller Tuesday afternoon when it was announced that Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov would not be playing in Game 3 due to a violation of team rules.
Credit the Predators for taking a strong stand and holding Radulov and Kostitsyn accountable despite the series deficit facing Nashville, but the Preds could be facing a huge obstacle when it comes to on-ice production. Much ballyhooed for his offensive skills when he was brought over from the KHL late this season, Radulov seems to have bolstered the hype, leading the team with six points this postseason. Kostitsyn is tied for the team lead in postseason goals. The Predators' Cup chase is at a crossroads Tuesday night, and the team's chances of holding serve and evening the best-of-seven series may have been made that much more difficult as a result of the disciplinary action.
Who's Hot: Patric Hornqvist could be heating up for Nashville after following up his two-assist performance in the series-opener with a goal in Game 2 Sunday night. … Vermette and Ray Whitney each have four points in their last three games for Phoenix.
Injury Report: Lauri Korpikoski is questionable for Phoenix for undisclosed reasons, but the two teams are otherwise as healthy as can be hoped for at this point in the season.
Stat Pack: Nashville's hard-checking style and strong defensive game has made it one of the best teams in the conference all season, but the Predators' defense seemed to dry up in the Arizona sun. Nashville has already given up as many goals in two games against the Coyotes -- nine -- as it did in its entire five-game series with Detroit.
Puck Drop: As the old maxim goes, it isn't a series until the home team loses. That hasn't happened yet, but there is still no avoiding the fact that to advance, the Predators will have to win at least one game in Phoenix as well as four of the next five overall. If Nashville doesn't turn its fortunes around now, there is a very real chance that when the Coyotes fly home after Game 4 Friday night, the Preds will not be joining them.