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Arizona Coyotes set for playoffs for first time in eight years, kind of

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The NHL’s 24-team playoff structure sees the Coyotes take on the Predators in the ‘play-in’ round.

Buffalo Sabres v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images

Finally, the Arizona Coyotes have ended an eight-year playoff drought thanks to the NHL’s 24-team format confirmed by the league yesterday, kind of.

The new system, which the league has established so that a Stanley Cup champion will be officially named in 2020, will see 16 teams compete in a ‘play-in’ round, progressing into what is considered the official first round.

As the ninth seed in the Western Conference, the Coyotes will need to qualify through the best-of-five series against the Nashville Predators, a team they are very familiar with since their last appearance in the playoffs.

The play-in round is technically not considered an official round of the playoffs, though most of the teams that have been included will likely consider it to be.

It is unclear whether or not points scored in this initial round will be combined with regular-season statistics, or whether the league will consider them ‘post-season’ stats, giving teams even more of an argument as to it being the playoffs.

Regardless of whether or not it is officially considered to be the playoffs, it will certainly feel like playoff hockey with the opportunity to progress adding extra incentive to the games.

With the prospect of seeing the Coyotes playing important hockey shortly, I decided to take a brief look back at the 2012 series while also looking at more recent competitions between the two teams.

2012 was a good year

Fans of the Arizona Coyotes will undoubtedly remember the 2012 playoff run for years to come, with the team reaching the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Coached by Dave Tippett, the Coyotes finished the regular season with a 42-27-13 record, claiming a Pacific Division title in the process.

They faced the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs and endured five consecutive games that were decided in overtime, taking a 3-2 record heading into Game Six.

A dominating 4-0 victory in Chicago set the Coyotes up with a second-round tie against the Barry Trotz-coached Nashville Predators.

Facing back-to-back Central Division teams was a challenge for the Coyotes, with both opponents sporting better winning records while heading into the playoffs, but it was the desert dogs that battled through the adversity to go on to an impressive run.

Five out of their first six playoff games ended in overtime and the first game of the series against Nashville was decided in the same manner.

Goals from Radim Vrbata, Rostislav Klesla, and Mikkel Boedker were washed out when Martin Erat scored with less than five minutes left to go in the third period, but Ray Whitney ensured the then-Phoenix Coyotes claimed the first game after over 14 minutes of overtime.

Game Two, also in Phoenix, was far more decisive from the Coyotes, who took a 5-3 victory and kept the Predators from leading at any point in the game, with popular figures Boedker, Antoine Vermette, Shane Doan, and Keith Yandle all playing a part in the victory as Tippett’s side took a 2-0 lead.

Game Three, the first in Nashville, saw the home side reduce the series to 2-1, with the Coyotes unable to get on the scoresheet for the first time in the entire playoffs.

That was as close as the Predators got to worrying the Coyotes, however, with Shane Doan ensuring their second game in Nashville ended 1-0 in their favor before returning home to Phoenix, where they secured the decisive 2-1 home victory to push themselves into the Western Conference Finals.

Overcoming two strong Central Division teams was a bright spark for the Coyotes organization, but they were, unfortunately, unable to overcome the LA Kings, falling in five games to the eventual Stanley Cup champions.

Recent Record

By the time the Arizona Coyotes and Nashville Predators take to the ice in the play-in round, it will have been more than half a year since they last played against each other in the regular season.

During the 2019/20 season, the Coyotes and Predators only played against each other twice, with both games coming before Christmas.

In those games, the Coyotes hold a 1-1-0 record, splitting regulation wins between the two teams evenly, with both claiming the points on home ice.

The Coyotes outscored the Predators 7-5 over those two games, with goals from Christian Dvorak, Phil Kessel (2), Jakob Chychrun, and Carl Soderberg helping them to claim a 5-3 victory at Gila River Arena while falling 3-2 at the Bridgestone Arena.

It’s hard to determine how either side will play against each other due to the time since their last meeting, but having a fully healthy roster will certainly have Coyotes fans hoping this team can recreate the heroics of eight years ago and see the team officially reach the playoffs for the first time since.