Can the Phoenix Coyotes win a playoff series for the first time in their history? They'll make an attempt this year in the Western Conference Quarterfinals but, even as Pacific Division Champions and the No. 3 seed, the club won't have an easy road against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Mike Smith has been a warrior for Dave Tippett's team this season, putting up a .930 save percentage that's both tops in the league among starters and by far the best in his career. Will his strong play be enough to carry the Coyotes through the first round and deep into the playoffs?
We asked Travis Hair of Coyotes blog Five For Howling to answer a few questions about the team as they prepare for the postseason.
1) What's the biggest reason you have confidence in the Coyotes heading into the postseason?
The biggest reason I have confidence in the Coyotes is that, coming into the playoffs, they've been one of the hottest teams in the league. They've turned on the offense with Radim Vrbata scoring 35 goals and the defense has been solid. Even bigger for the team has been Mike Smith who ended the season with five straight wins and allowing a total of two goals against in those games.
2) What's the biggest question mark surrounding the team heading into the playoffs?
The biggest question mark is likely if the Coyotes can keep finding ways to score goals. Pretty much everyone is healthy so it's just a matter of playing the same Coyotes game that they have the last week and did back in February.
3) If there's one player on the Coyotes that will have a breakout playoff campaign, who will it be?
I think this playoff season will be a time to showcase Oliver Ekman-Larsson. A lot of the league hasn't seen the kid, but at 20 he's getting a ton of big minutes on the Coyotes' blueline and has been very effective and responsible both offensively and defensively. He's a special player and people are going to take notice.
4) When all's said and done, the Coyotes' playoff chances hinge on ...
Mike Smith. Plain and simple. If he's healthy and keeps playing how he has the Coyotes will be unstoppable. However, the team has to play defense like they did in the last two to make it count. 54 shots will not cut it against the Hawks.
5) Give a prediction. How far will Phoenix go in these Stanley Cup Playoffs?
See you in the Finals. You have to believe.
For more on the Coyotes, check in with Five For Howling.