When the horn sounded and the Phoenix Coyotes officially beat the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs, some people thought the impending series with the Nashville Predators would be an easier series than Chicago, a stepping stone on to the next round.
But as the Coyotes know, the Predators are not an easy team to beat and they are not taking the series lightly.
“I know they’re a very well-coached team,” said Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett. “They work hard, they play a good structure, their goaltending has obviously been very good. The one thing I think about Nashville that people don’t realize is that I think their skill level is very underrated.”
Considering the Preds added several solid offensive players — Alexander Radulov, Paul Gaustad and Andrei Kostitsyn — along with defenseman Hal Gill at the trade deadline in front of an already imposing goaltender in Pekka Rinne, the Coyotes task looks a little tougher.
Rinne, a Vezina Trophy finalist, has frustrated the Coyotes this season, helping his team own the advantage in the regular season series and making some stunning saves in the interim.
“I know him personally; he’s a great guy, but unbelievable goalie, just an athletic guy that competes as hard as everyone out there,” said Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, who has been pretty hot himself. “We’re going to have to, like I said, elevate our game, try to get as much traffic, and people, and pucks to the net as we can, and hopefully we’ll find a way to get a pass in.”
A lot of comparisons can be drawn between Nashville and Phoenix, but especially so on each team’s commitment to defense and discipline, something Coyotes forward and two-time overtime hero Mikkel Boedker is well aware of.
“It’s going to be a tighter series, he said. “They obviously play a little more defensive. Chicago had a lot of puck and hopefully we can have a little more puck in this series. It’ll be a good series, it’ll be a defensive battle against two good goalies and we’re excited.”