The No. 3 seed Phoenix Coyotes and the No. 4 seed Nashville Predators will clash in the Western Conference semifinals beginning Friday night in Glendale. Here are 10 items for your consideration about this matchup.
10. The Coyotes Are The Predators, Basically
Beyond the non-traditional market and tooth-baring animal mascots, there's a distinct similarity between the teams: One inspired the other.
"Since I've been here, I've looked at them as a model for us," Maloney said.
"Nashville managed their payroll well, they have a great coach much like ours, great goaltending and they got the most out of what they had. We really are mirror images of each other, quite frankly, when it comes to style, commitment and work ethic. You don't get a free night when you play Nashville, and we feel the same is true with the Coyotes. This should be a very interesting series."
Indeed. Mainly because …
9. The Goaltending Is Redonk
Pekka Rinne and Mike Smith are two netminders who don't simply stop pucks — they lead from the crease. Smith posted a 1.81 GAA and a .950 save percentage against Chicago, with one shutout. Rinne also had a 1.81 GAA and a .944 save percentage against Detroit. Both goalies are as solid as they come and aggressive … although Smith (14 PIM in the regular season) is a bit more physical than his counterpart.
8. Ray Whitney/Martin Hanzal/Radim Vrbata vs. Ryan Suter and Shea Weber
The Coyotes' top line wasn't firing on all cylinders in Round 1. Vrbata scored 35 goals in the regular season but was goal-less in six games against Chicago. Hanzal had 34 points in 64 games, but had one goal in just three games in Round 1. Both players suffered injuries vs. Chicago; their ailments affected Ray Whitney, who had three points in six games.
Vrbata told NHL.com he's feeling better:
"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."
One assumes they'll see copious amounts of Shea Weber (27:44 TOI) and Ryan Suter (27:42) if Barry Trotz decides to match pairings and gets the matchups he wants.
7. Celebrity Star Power
The Nashville Predators have had Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman, as well as Reba McEntire, attend games. So does Vince Gill, talking smack on the other team. Dierks Bentley expect to be at a playoff game. Oh, and then there's Mrs. Mike Fisher. She's there too.
The Phoenix Coyotes have … Alice Cooper. And Sen. John McCain. He's hip, right?
6. The Coyotes' Kill vs. Predators' Power
Not exactly an offensive powerhouse, winning the special teams battle will be essential for the Coyotes. They won it in the previous round against Chicago, killing 18 of 19 power plays; Nashville, meanwhile, allowed four goals on 23 chances. On the power play, Phoenix was 4 of 19, with Antoine Vermette potting three of them. The Predators couldn't solve the Red Wings' kill in five games, going 2 for 22. In the regular season, they were first in the NHL at a 21.6 percent conversion rate.
5. Somewhere, Jim Balsillie Weeps
The Coyotes and Predators share an odd common thread: The same billionaire Canadian tried to relocate them.
Back in 2007, Research in Motion co-founder Balsillie reached an agreement to buy the Predators. The team had an out-clause in its arena deal that would have allowed for relocation had the Predators not hit 14,000 average paid attendance. His plan was to relocate the team to Hamilton, even accepting season ticket deposits for the Hamilton Predators. Owner CraigLeipold eventually opted not to sell the team to Balsillie, opting for a group that included future criminal William "Boots" Del Biaggio.
In 2009, Balsillie infamously tried to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes out of bankruptcy to move them to Southern Ontario. The ensuing court battle with the NHL lasted four months before Judge Redfield T. Baum rejected his bid, and Balsillie decided not to appeal. The NHL has owned the team since then.
So Balsillie probably looking at this matchup wondering what might have been. Or not. He does have some other things on his mind.
4. The Oliver Ekman-Larsson Factor
We may be witnessing a star being born in these playoffs. Sure, he was minus-3 against the Blackhawks, but he was a noticeable presence for the Coyotes after a 32-point regular season. He had a goal and two helpers in the series, all on the power play, averaging 26:31 TOI per game.
3. The David Legwand Line
Or is it the Alex Radulov line? Or is it the Gabriel Bourque line? This trio, projected to play together again, combined for 13 points in five games against the Wings, including Bourque's three goals and Radulov's 2-point night in the series clincher. In a balanced offensive attack, this group had the most spark.
2. The Predators Have Playoff Mohawks
This really can't be stressed enough: Many of the Nashville Predators are rocking both the playoff beard and the playoff Mohawk. From Ryan Porth of Smashville 24/7:
"It's nice to see guys just get fired up and laugh. That's the main thing — keeping it a little loose," said Kevin Klein, who started the trend before the postseason arrived.
Francis Bouillon and Roman Josi have since jumped on the Mohawk bandwagon.
"When Kevin Klein got his mohawk I told him if we make the playoffs that I would do it with him since he was my defense partner," said Bouillon, whose kids have joined the fray as well. "I don't really care about my hair. Right now I care about the playoffs. A new season [has started] so I wanted to change something."
Pictured here is Hal Gill, whose Mohawk makes him look like every player ever suspended from Vityaz Chekov of the KHL this season.
Predators in 6. Too much depth and we expect their power play to start churning again. A bounce here or there in the Chicago series, and the Coyotes wouldn't even be in Round 2.