NHL Playoffs 2012: PHX-NSH Western Semis—Who Wins the Goaltending War?

Andrew NordmeierContributor IIIApril 27, 2012

Can Pekka Rinne (right) lead his team to the Western Conference Finals?
Can Pekka Rinne (right) lead his team to the Western Conference Finals?Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The NHL is down to its elite eight and the matchup between the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators looks to be the most tightly-contested battle in the conference semifinals.

Since it takes four wins for one of these teams to make their first-ever trip to the conference championship, here’s four reasons why each team will win this series.

For the Coyotes, it comes down to Mike Smith between the pipes. He single-handedly kept Phoenix in its first-round series with Chicago despite being out-shot 242-159. If Smith plays in the second round like he did in the first, then Phoenix should be able to advance.

Phoenix will show more mental toughness against Nashville. After letting Chicago score three times in the final 1:30 of games to force overtime, look for Phoenix to play a full 60 minutes each night. They know what happens if they don’t.

Coyote Head Coach Dave Tippett knows how to manage his time. Despite the NHL-record five consecutive overtime games to open the last series, none of the Coyotes averaged more than 26 minutes a night. This keeps his team fresher for those late-game situations.

Phoenix is getting offense from unlikely sources. Mikkel Boedker scored a pair of game-winning goals against Chicago despite scoring just 11 times all season.  That helps to offset the one assist Radim Vrbata had in that series. Vrbata lit the lamp 35 times in the regular season including 12 game-winners. Ray Whitney had 77 points in the regular season and just three in the opening-round against Chicago so Phoenix is capable of getting that scoring from anyone.

Nashville can advance to the conference finals. Here’s why the Predators can make it to the conference finals.

The Predators are rock-solid in net with Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne.  Rinne led the league in games played, wins, shots against and saves made. Rinne was also second in minutes played. He’s the kind of workhorse goaltender a championship contender needs and Nashville certainly has one.

Nashville has an advantage on special teams. The Predators finished the regular season with the best power play in the league, converting 21.6 percent of their chances. If the Coyotes start piling up the penalties, they can find themselves in deep trouble.

The Predators need to score first. Nashville went 35-3-4 when scoring first and won five out of each six games when they did that. Plus with the goaltending matchup, the first goal might be the game’s only goal.

Nashville has not played in 10 days so they should be rested. Or it could come back to hurt them a little in the early games of this series. In general, the rest should be a plus for the Predators.

In the regular season, each team posted a pair of wins over the other and both teams won twice on the road. I can see this going the full seven games and Nashville uses its extra scoring depth to squeak past Phoenix to advance to the Western Conference Finals.    

Nashville in seven.