Five Questions in Round 2 of West playoffs
|Phoenix Coyotes centre Gilbert Brule (R) celebrates his third period goal against the Chicago Blackhawks with his teammates Kyle Chipchura (C) and Michal Rozsival during Game 6 of their NHL Western Conference quarter-final hockey playoffs in Chicago, Illinois April 23, 2012. (REUTERS)
1. Can this Phoenix continue to rise? The individual story of the first round was Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith. It's a remarkable development when you consider just last season he was playing in the American Hockey League and, at age 30, looking like his NHL career could be close to an end. He has flourished in Phoenix working with goaltending coach Sean Burke. If Phoenix is going to be beat Nashville, Smith probably will have to be even better than he was in Round 1 against Chicago and that's a tall order.
2. Can the Blues find another level? The St. Louis Blues looked like a team that played to its maximum potential during the regular season. They rolled over a soft San Jose Sharks team in the first round, but the Los Angeles Kings just might be a club that can match the Blues in the intensity department. The Blues will need more from their top line of captain David Backes, David Perron and T.J. Oshie, which managed just two goals against the Sharks.
3. What happened to the home cooking?? Going into Thursday night's two Game 7s, home teams were just 17-29 during the first round. The idea of home-ice advantage has been asked to pack a bag and move out. It used to be teams with home advantage earned it because they were superior teams and the gap between them and their opponents was wide. That was your father's NHL. The salary cap has levelled the playing field and, with all the new rinks in the NHL, all the playing fields look and feel about the same. It might be home-ice disadvantage now.
4. Can the Preds use this success to turn Honkeytown into another Hockeytown? Music City will be rocking with the Predators advancing to the second round for the second year in a row and the second time in their 13-year history. Country music stars such as Carrie Underwood, the wife of Preds centre Mike Fisher, will be on the bandwagon and making games there an event. While the Predators, Coyotes and Blues don't move the national needle like, say, the Detroit Red Wings would, the excitement level will be off the charts in those towns.
5. Is that an elephant in the Coyotes room? The club's future in Glendale will become more of a topic as these playoffs unfold and we creep closer to an as yet undefined deadline -- surely within the next month or so -- to determine if they will be sold by the NHL and stay in Glendale or move to, say, Quebec City. Talks continue with former Sharks executive Greg Jamison, while an unidentified potential owner lurks in the bid to keep the Coyotes in the desert. The NHL remains hopeful a deal will be done and new ownership will keep the Coyotes in Glendale.