By Dave Vest
The Coyotes will begin their Western Conference semifinal series against the Nashville Predators tonight at Jobing.com Arena. The puck drops at 6 p.m. (Arizona time).
will start in goal for Phoenix, as it plays its first second-round playoff game since moving from Winnipeg to Phoenix in 1996. The franchise last advanced to the second round in 1987 as the Jets.
Smith posted a 1.81 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage during the first-round series vs. the Chicago Blackhawks. He made 229 saves on 241 shots in the series, including 39 in a 4-0 shutout in the series-clinching Game 6.
Nashville and Phoenix played four times during the regular season and the visiting team won each time. Keep in mind, the only time Nashville faced Smith was in the series finale on March 12, which Nashville won, 5-4, in a shootout.
The Coyotes allowed 40.2 shots per game in the series vs. Chicago and that likely won’t cut it vs. Nashville, which eliminated Detroit in five games in the first round.
“Obviously Chicago is a really skilled bunch, but I think Nashville isn’t in the second round by accident," Smith said. "I think they play a good team game and they have some firepower that probably doesn’t get as noticed as the guys in Chicago. So, we can’t think because we’re in the second round we have a pushover here. They’re going to be a tough battle. They have some skilled guys up front and obviously some big shots from the point. So, it’ll obviously be another tough test for our team.”
Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said he is eager to see how his team responds to its success in the first round.
“Every series is different,” Tippett said. “I think it’s going to be a tight series. There will be a break here or there that dictates some wins and losses. We got some breaks against Chicago, so you just have to wait and see how it goes, but we’re an organization where getting through that first round sets new standards. But we can’t be satisfied with that. You’ve got to be able to push ahead. It’s a situation where I think our players are excited to do that, but they recognize the task is going to be hard. We have to find ways to win games again.”
|Photo by Getty Images.
Nashville, which hasn’t played since April 20, is 6-2 on the road in its past eight road games in the playoffs.
Head Coach Barry Trotz was asked if he fears his team will be rusty in Game 1 after the lengthy break.
“As a coach you worry about it, but I think we practiced well and our focus was really good,” Trotz said after Friday’s morning skate. “I think the way we set up the week in terms of days off and a couple practice days, the intensity was good. Now we got to translate it into a real battle, real emotions, real bite from the other team.”
The Predators received balanced scoring in the first round; eight players scored at least one goal.
Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne posted a 1.81 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in the quarterfinal series vs. Detroit, which Nashville won 4-1.
Rookie Gabriel Bourque, who scored seven goals in 43 games in the regular season, scored three goals in five playoff games vs. the Red Wings.