2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs Picks: Western Conference Semifinals Nashville Predators vs Phoenix Coyotes Odds and Predictions: Neither Phoenix nor Nashville is generally thought of as a hockey town, but the third-seeded Coyotes and fourth-seeded Predators are attempting to change that. The two franchises don’t exactly have a ton of tradition when it comes to the playoffs, and Phoenix’s division title this season was the first by either team in its current location. With the two sides set to face off in the Western Conference semifinals, one team is going to move one step closer to playing for its first-ever Stanley Cup. However, neither side is likely to be an easy out.

It’s tough to gauge this series based on the regular season results. Phoenix and Nashville split four meetings, and the road team one every game. Not to mention the fact that the two teams have met just once since early December. Both teams have undoubtedly changed a lot in the several months in between, and the regular season stats might as well be thrown out the window.

What shouldn’t be discounted are the similarities between both teams on the both ends of the ice. Phoenix and Nashville are defensive-minded teams with strong options in net. Both sides ranked in the top 10 in terms of fewest goals allowed in the NHL this season, and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Phoenix’s Mike Smith both ranked in the top seven in terms of save percentage this season. Smith had the slightly better individual numbers, but Rinne put up his solid numbers while making the most appearances of any goalie in the league.

If the first round was any indication, Nashville’s defense may have the slight edge. The Predators held Detroit to two goals or less in their four wins, dispatching the Red Wings in five games. Granted, Phoenix held Chicago to two goals or less five times in its opening-round series, but the Coyotes needed six games to advance past the Blackhawks after blowing a couple leads throughout the series. Not to mention the fact that Phoenix has to be a little worn down because all six games against Chicago went into overtime.

While both teams bring strong defenses and goaltending to the table, the X-factor could be the Nashville offense. Phoenix ranked just 18th in the NHL this season with 210 goals, while the Predators ranked in the top 10. The scary thing for the Coyotes is that the Nashville offense is much better now than it was during most of the regular season thanks to the return of right wing Alexander Radulov. He played just nine games during the regular season after returning from a four-year hiatus to the KHL, but Radulov has looked every bit the former first-round pick in the postseasons. He has a goal and four assists in five games and is leading the Predators in points. In other words, Radulov is a powerful weapon that has been added to a Nashville offense that already had the edge.

Meanwhile, Phoenix’s offense has been led by overachieving veterans Radim Vrbata (35 goals) and Ray Whitney (53 assists). Nashville already picked apart a veteran Detroit team in the first round, and the Predators could have too much speed and firepower for the Coyotes, as well. Throw in the fact that Phoenix’s hard hitter Raffi Torres is suspended for the entire series and beyond, and the Coyotes may not have the athleticism to hang with Nashville.

In the end, the Coyotes are going to live and die with Smith between the pipes. He finished third in the NHL this year with eight shutouts, and if he plays a like a brick wall, Phoenix can win this series. However, Nashville’s Rinne is no slouch in net, and he has better pieces around him, especially on offense. Even though Phoenix is the No. 3 seed and won its division, the Predators actually had more points during the regular season. Smith’s presence alone will give the Coyotes a couple of games, but the Predators balance should prevail.

Prediction: Nashville Predators Win in 6 Games

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Nashville Predators vs Phoenix Coyotes Series Price
4827 Nashville Predators -170
4828 Phoenix Coyotes +150

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