GLENDALE -- When they moved from Winnipeg to Phoenix in 1996, the Coyotes brought the Jets' time-tested "WhiteOut" playoff tradition in Arizona – encouraging fans to dress in white, whitewash their possessions and body parts and turn the arena into a blizzard while the 100-degree heat seared outside.
But over the last three years, fans of the opposing Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks have done everything possible to thwart the efforts of the locals -- infiltrating the WhiteOut with their colors and leaving Jobing.com Arena looking as if a super-sized bottle of Visine was needed to "get the red out."
Turns out, winning a first-round series also does the trick.
|Photo by Norm Hall. |
With the Blackhawks and their red-and-black clad fans now in the rear-view mirror, Phoenix prepares to face a Nashville team that is as impressive on the ice but doesn't enjoy the same kind of national following. So Friday's Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals should at least look more forbidding as the Coyotes and Predators each bid for their first-ever trip to the conference finals.
"I know there are a lot of people here who are from somewhere else, but I don't think there are too many from Nashville," defenseman Derek Morris said. "Our home fans were great in the first round and it should be even better now. People have been waiting a long time for this chance. And we have to turn that emotion into better starts."
While the Coyotes swept all three games in Chicago, they lost two of their three home games and continued a history of tough postseason sledding for the White Out. Since moving to Glendale, the Coyotes are 2-7 in home playoff games and just 7-17 overall in Arizona -- including games played at America West Arena (now US Airways Center) in Phoenix.
"We've been very good on the road, but you don't want to have to make a habit of having to do that," Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle said. "We need to be better at home and I think we will be. We lost two games in overtime (to Chicago) but we had good stretches. Now we want to have good games."
Again holding the home-ice advantage, the Coyotes need every possible edge against a Nashville team that piled up 104 points in the regular season and dispatched a team the Coyotes know all too well -- the vaunted Red Wings -- while winning twice at Joe Louis Arena.
|Shane Doan |
"We know how hard it is to win in the playoffs there, and they beat them back-to-back. That gets your attention," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said of the Predators. "We didn't have very good first periods against Chicago. We don't have to rely on (goalie Mike Smith) to save us until we get going."
Phoenix appears to have everyone this side of the suspended Raffi Torres ready for Game 1. All the Coyotes were on the ice for Thursday's practice. Defenseman Michal Rozsival, who cut the inside of his mouth when he was checked face-first into the boards by Chicago's Jimmy Hayes, is good to go. So is Rostislav Klesla, who will wear a visor after a skate left a nasty cut above his eye in the first period. Forward Lauri Korpikoski missed two games and had trouble moving when he returned, but looked much more fluid on Thursday.
First-liners Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata, both of whom missed time in the first round, are back with Ray Whitney. Vrbata said the upper-body injury he sustained in Game 1 hindered him for the whole series but that three days of rest since the Coyotes closed out the Hawks on Monday have been very helpful.
"Everybody has something at this time of the year, so you have to deal with it. But (the injury) was definitely an issue," said Vrbata, who managed just one assist in the six-game series. "Now I'm back and Marty is back and we will be together with (Whitney) and we only played one game together in the last series. We need to play the way we have all year and make a big contribution to what our team is doing."