Tomorrow starts Round 2 of the 2012 NHL Playoffs, starting with the Nashville/Phoenix series at 8PM CST. Nashville was the first of all sixteen teams in the playoffs to advance to the Semifinals and waited patiently for their next opponent who was announced as Phoenix after the Coyotes knocked off the Chicago Blackhawks with a series win of 4-2.
Although both in the Western Conference, both Phoenix and Nashville aren’t bitter rivals by any means. With Nashville contending in the ever-difficult Central Division and Phoenix powering through the Pacific Division, these two very similar teams only saw each other four times this past season, with a record of 1-2-1 in favor of the Coyotes. Don’t let that deter you from siding with Nashville, though; the Predators have grown through this season, with the perfect pairings of Roman Josi and Hal Gill, and the sudden leadership of players like Kevin Klein.
However, what will come down between who ultimately takes the series and moves on to Round 3 will be all on the two elite goaltenders, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Phoenix’s Mike Smith.
Although Pekka Rinne leads the NHL in wins, games played and is a finalist for the 2012 Vezina Trophy, Mike Smith blocked 229 of 241 shots during Round 1 against the Blackhawks and even more impressive, Smith went 11-0 in February alone, snagging NHL Player of the Month. Both goalies have made some impressive strives this past and post seasons, so in a nutshell, the successor will come down to which goal makes a mistake first.
Unlike Nashville, who has Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, and Mike Fisher, Phoenix does not have big names like the Predators necessarily. Captain of the Coyotes, Shane Doan, was drafted in the 1995 NHL Draft by the former Winnipeg Jets, who ultimately moved to Phoenix in 1997. Doan is just about nine years Predators captain Shea Weber’s senior and, although experience and wisdom comes along with age, Weber’s physique and youth may overpower Doan in the long run.
One thing is for sure between these two contenders, however; both teams are more alike than different. Both were threatened with relocation (and Phoenix is still fighting it off) to Hamilton, Ontario from now former Co-CEO of Research in Motion, Jim Balsillie. Nashville almost met the fate of Canada back in 2007, but luckily, loyal Predators fans were able to nip that decision quickly in the bud. The Coyotes, who are a currently owned by the NHL, are purely at the mercy of the City of Phoenix, who currently pays to keep the team in near by Glendale, Arizona.
Also, both teams play in very eerily similar ways, which will ultimately make for one interesting match up. No matter which team that ultimately advances to Round 3, both Nashville and Phoenix have the potential of going far, if not all the way to the finals.
You won’t see many goals during these series, not with these two extraordinary goalies in net. Again, it will all come down to which goalie makes the first mistake. May it not be Pekka Rinne.