In what has been a surprising series, but then again a surprising playoffs, the Phoenix Coyotes have taken a 3 – 1 series lead over the Nashville Predators.
The Coyotes, Pacific Division Champions, could have seen an entirely different landscape for the playoffs. In the final month of the regular season, the Coyotes were in a dogfight for first within their division. The San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and even the Dallas Stars were a part of this four-way battle that had everyone in the hockey community paying attention. The Coyotes narrowly took first place within the division, 1 point over second (Sharks) and 2 points over third (Kings). The Sharks were knocked out of the first round against the St. Louis Blues, who as of late, looked nothing like their dominating selves in the first round. The Kings on the other hand have knocked out first place Vancouver Canucks and now swept the previously mentioned not-looking-as-good Blues. Could the Coyotes still have advanced if they placed differently at the end of regular season? Perhaps, but their home ice advantage has been pivotal in the second round.
The Predators matched up against the never-to-be-understimated Detroit Red Wings. Detroit broke a most consecutive home game record during the season but stumbled towards the end of the regular season. Still, the Wings are a playoff team. The first two games in Nashville were split, Red Wings’ fans optimistic heading back to Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Nashville silenced a fan base, winning games 2 and 3 in Detroit, taking a 3 – 1 series back to Nashville. The Predators defeated the Wings in 5 games, advancing to the Conference Semi-Finals for their second time in team history.
Last year the Predators advanced to the second round for the first time in team history but lost 2 – 4 against the Vancouver Canucks. Despite losing, Nashville fans were excited that their team is on the right track. This year, knocking out the Detroit Red Wings to advance to the first round, fans have become hungry for more.
Unfortunately for the fans, two players, Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostisyyn were not as hungry. The two players, after a suspected late night on the town but a confirmed breaking of team rules, the two were benched for game three. The Predators went on to win game three, leaving Head Coach Barry Trotz in a darn-if-you-do, darn-if-you-don’t decision to play one or both of the players in game four. The decision to not play both players may later be looked upon as a poor one, as game four went to the Phoenix Coyotes.
Coming into game five the two teams are hungry; one to advance to compete against a division rival that will surely be a great series to watch, while the other to build upon last year’s success. Nashville is expected to have both Radulov and A. Kostistyn in the lineup while the Coyotes will be missing defenseman Rotislav Klesla due to suspension. Klesla boarded Predators’ Matt Halischuk in game three.
By far, the Coyotes have the advantage, having two of the three home ice games if the series goes to seven games. With last year’s Stanley Cup Champions’ Boston Bruins coming back from a 3 – 0 deficit, anything is possible. Game 5 will be played tonight at 10 PM EST time at Jobing.com Arena. Expect a whiteout with loud fans, especially after news that a new ownership is set to keep the team in Phoenix.