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Western Conference Semi Finals: Game 1 – Nashville @ Phoenix


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Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images

The Nashville Predators meet the Phoenix Coyotes in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Phoenix Coyotes are celebrating their first ever series win since 1987 when they were in Winnipeg. In what was a tight series, the Coyotes man-handled the Chicago Blackhawks in the deciding game by a score of 4-0.

Nashville also exorcised some demons this year by beating the Detroit Red Wings in 5 games and finally shuffling the long standing elephant out of the room. Nashville was without the services of defensive pick-up Hal Gill for the entire series, but the added rest time for Nashville should have Gill hitting the ice tonight to add even more depth and size to a stout defense that held Detroit to only 9 goals in the series.

Puck drop is at 8 P.M. Central and can be viewed nationally on NBC Sports Network. The radio coverage will be provided by 102.5 the Game.

Season Series: 2-2-0 (Home 0-2-0) (Away 2-0-0)

The Keys for Phoenix: Phoenix just completed a long and arduous series with the Chicago Blackhawks where all but the last game went into overtime. Mikkel Boedker was the overtime hero in back-to-back games for the Coyotes and Mike Smith has been outstanding in net. The Phoenix Coyotes will need to continue to be top-notch against the Predators, but as many have written over the last few days, Nashville and Phoenix both have similar styles of play. It’ll be a coach and goaltender duel for the next week or so.

Antoine Vermette and Keith Yandle are leading the Coyotes in points with 5; Vermette also leads in goals with 4. Interesting to note, although Vermette has 5 points he was a -3 in the series. Mike Smith put up ridiculous numbers in the series that almost mirror the effort Pekka Rinne’s from the Detroit series. A GAA of 1.81 and a SV% of .950 has him 2nd in both categories for goalies in the playoffs.Another interesting tidbit: the Predators only losses to Phoenix were at the hands of Labarbara, not Smith. The Predators only faced Smith once all year winning in the shootout 5-4.

Phoenix will need to jump out early and use the crowd as fuel to take Game 1 from the Nashville Predators. A solid start will put any questions about how tired the Coyotes are to rest and show that they are not merely “just happy to be there” after winning their first series. Nashville had a similar problem last year against the Vancouver Canucks and came out flat in the series. Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett knows all too well what it takes to motivate his team and how to stay disciplined amidst the new-found rush of playing in their first semi-finals.

The Keys for Nashville: Nashville is now making their second trip to the semi-finals in 2 years. The first trip ended in Nashville against the much-favored Vancouver Canucks but Nashville gave them everything they had but it wasn’t enough to hinder the Kesler line. Nashville comes into this series a little older and a little wiser after slaying the proverbial dragon of their heated rival Detroit Red Wings. Nashville also gets back a defensive and penalty-kill specialist in Hal Gill. After a full week off, Nashville should be rested and Trotz will have them focused on Phoenix.

Many an unsung hero emerged from the quarter final against Detroit. Kevin Klein who through much of the year raises the blood pressure (and not in a good way) of Nashville Predator fans emerged as the remarkably solid, goal-scoring defenseman that was drafted ahead of Shea Weber. Yes, look it up, I’m not joking here. Klein blocked what could have been a game-changing goal in Game 3, scored a Bobby Hull compared goal in the same game and scored on an open net after the Detroit Red Wings all converged on Erat to take the lead for good in Game 4.

Another late bloomer that blossomed nicely in the playoffs was Gabriel Bourque. Bourque had 3 goals and 1 assist to be second in Predator scoring behind Radulov. Gabriel Bourque is the essence of what head coach Barry Trotz loves in a player. He’s speedy, protects the puck, goes to the hard areas and heads to the front of the net to position for scoring. 2 of Bourque’s 3 goals were dead in front of Howard and when he had the shot, Bourque buried it every time.

Nashville, like Phoenix, needs to jump out early and take the crowd out. It’ll be a frenzied atmosphere for the White-Out crowd being this is their first semi-final and the Predators would do well to silence that in the first period. As Paul McCann stated it’ll also be a question of “rest or rust” and which of these will make their appearance. The rest did the Predators some good to allow for things to heal and to get focused on the next series.

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