Let’s see, I picked both of these teams to lose in the first round. I’ll try not to pick them both to lose again this round.
I was going to write my regular sort of preview here, but I’ve decided against that. Instead, I’m going to look at a few factors that I think will decide the series. It’s a little bit different, and who knows if I’ll keep doing this as my series previews.
If you look at the series between the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings, in the games that the Preds won, they never had to play from behind. They took the lead and never allowed the Red Wings to take it. Sure, they allowed a ton of shots and didn’t take many themselves, but they made sure they cashed in on their chances. The Predators controlled the series pretty well and did this against a very good team. Unless you’re the Flyers playing in a weird series against the Penguins, if you scored first in this year’s playoffs, teams that advanced to the second round won 74% of the time. When you play with the lead, there’s not much reason to change your strategy.
The Coyotes, on the other hand, had the first five games in their series go to overtime. I’m by no means saying that they didn’t deserve to win the series, but the difference between a win and a loss in overtime is just so minute that slightest tilt in the other direction could have completely changed the outcome of games. Clearly, what they did ultimately worked, but it’s not exactly a style that’s likely to continue to work as the playoffs wear on. But was this indicative of their desired style or was it a product of their opponent? The Chicago Blackhawks are a fast team that has a ton of skill up front. They’re going to cause most defenses a lot of headaches in a way that the Predators will not.
The Predators can score though, and they did it against the Wings without the help of the usual suspects in Mike Fisher, Martin Erat, and Patric Hornqvist. Instead, Gabriel Bourque led the team with 3 goals and defensemen Kevin Klein added 2 goals, including a game winner. And the signing of Alexander Radulov has paid dividends as he put up 5 points in the first round. Nashville’s going to need to get contributions from their top players to beat the Coyotes, but what really helped them dispose of the Wings so quickly was their complete dominance in 5-on-5 play. For every goal the Wings scored 5-on-5, the Preds scored 2.75. They held Detroit to just 4 goals scored at full strength while keeping their powerplay pretty reasonably in check.
One place the Predators struggled was the powerplay. They only managed two powerplay goals against Detroit while the Coyotes had the best penalty kill in the playoffs in the first round. Sure, they played against a Chicago team with a weak regular season powerplay, but as the Devils proved with their penalty kill, sometimes regular season stats don’t end up meaning much. This won’t necessarily kill the Predators, but it definitely makes it tougher to put their opponent away. It’s a great luxury to be able to know that getting a powerplay late in the second with a two goal lead could be the dagger in the heart.
Antoine Vermette has been a pleasant surprise with his 4 goals, but Radim Vrbata is going to have to produce more than 1 point to make the Predators not laugh at the Phoenix offensive attack. Ray Whitney and Shane Doan need to step it up and provide offense. Despite their age, they can still get things done.
My Prediction: I’m going to say that the Predators win in 6. Phoenix only won 1 out of 3 home games against the Blackhawks, but they can’t expect to be as successful on the road against the Predators. The Coyotes proved me wrong in the first round, but the Predators are just a more polished team and will ultimately take the series over and win.