The Phoenix Coyotes are coming off their first playoff series win since moving to Phoenix in 1996 after taking down the Chicago Blackhawks in six games earlier this week. Their second round opponent will be the Nashville Predators.
The teams split the season series two games apiece, and are boasting two of the hottest goaltenders remaining in the playoffs.
Mike Smith had an outstanding series against the high-powered Chicago offense, and Nashville goaltender Pekka Rine was big in net for the Predators who sent a veteran laden Detroit Red Wings squad home packing.
Both ranked in the top 10 in the league this season in games played, wins, save percentage and shutouts.
"You watch the games and they were all very close games. Pekka Rinne played very well for Nashville. There's a couple games that I thought could've went either way and Nashville found a way to get on top, so both really good teams, Nashville found a way to win games," coach Dave Tippett said Thursday.
Both teams play a very defensive style of game as well. Phoenix is bolstered by 20-year-old Oliver Ekman-Larsson and veterans Derek Morris and Keith Yandle on the back end, while Nashville has two of the best D-men in the game guarding their blue line with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.
The addition of Hal Gill at the trade deadline also helped bolster their defense with some size.
"I think they're pretty much a similar team to us. They have a good defense and kind of play a defensive style just like we do. So, I think it's going to be a long series and it's going to be a tough one, it's going to be one-goal games I think. We're going to do everything to win it," forward Martin Hanzal said after practice Thursday.
The time off between the series will benefit the Coyotes the most. The Coyotes depth got demolished by injuries during their series with the Blackhawks. Radim Vrbata, Lauri Korpikoski and Hanzal all missed games in round one, and Rostislav Klesla took a puck to the face in game six that nearly swelled his eye shut.
Vrbata knows the benefit of some time off after a grueling season and playoff series.
"Not just the two of us, but I think everybody. You don't talk about injuries during the playoffs, but I'm sure there's lots of guys in this room who are dealing with something and I'm sure that Nashville has got guys that are dealing with something. So, after a long season like this, after 82 games, I'm sure everybody in the league has something. So, you have to put it aside and try the best you can and hopefully it'll be enough."
The puck drops at 6 p.m. PST at Jobing.com Arena Friday. The game can be seen nationally on NBC Sports Network (Formerly Versus). The game will be available on XTRA Sports 910 on the radio.