Found May 03, 2012 on
Fox Sports Arizona:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. Maybe you got a little drunk on the possibilities. Maybe we all did. After 15 years of waiting, this was uncharted territory for Valley hockey fans. Who knew what to expect or how to act?
The Coyotes were on a roll, they had a 2-0 series lead for the first time since moving to the Valley, Nashville was playing without two stars and Phoenix fans were thinking sweep as the team touched down in Music City.
Not going to happen. Never was.
Nashville is too good, and with skilled forwards Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn suspended for a curfew violation, it flipped open a familiar script in a 2-0 win Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena that sliced Phoenix's lead in this Western Conference semifinals series to 2-1.
"We played Predator hockey," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "Finally."
Nashville's goals weren't pretty. They were opportunistic the product of hard work in the offensive zone and two Phoenix mistakes.
On the first, Coyotes goalie Mike Smith came well out of his goal to clear the puck around the net, but Nashville forward Gabriel Bourque beat Phoenix defenseman Adrian Aucoin to the puck and centered it to David Legwand for an easy goal into an open net eight minutes and 10 seconds into the first period.
Just over a minute later, Coyotes killer Martin Erat stripped defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson on a breakout along the near boards in the Phoenix zone. Mike Fisher's shot then ramped up Smith's stick into the net.
That was it, two goals in a 1:06 span. That was all Nashville needed.
"I thought we gave up two easy goals kind of unearned goals early," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "When you look at the situation you knew they were going to come hard and we gave them that early energy, that early momentum."
The Nashville press will surely play up the fact that goalie Pekka Rinne recorded his first career postseason shutout with 32 saves, and that is no small feat. But the truth is the Coyotes generated very little offense against Nashville's suffocating defense, other than a late flurry on a 5-on-3 power play chance in which Rinne robbed Radim Vrbata with a sprawling pad save.
"There wasn't an abundance of chances out there," Tippett said. "They defended a lot better tonight."
Which raises an interesting question: What do you do with Radulov and Kostitsyn if you're Trotz? He said earlier in the day that he might sit them for Game 4 as well if the Predators won Game 3. It's an old hockey rule that you don't alter a winning combination, but in this case, that's easier said than done.
On the one hand, you can argue that Wednesday's lineup was the first one to produce a win so it earns another chance. The Preds certainly don't owe anything to a pair of teammates who shirked a basic responsibility and commitment by blowing off curfew.
But remember, Nashville hadn't won a playoff series in its history either until last season when it advanced to this very round. Kostitsyn and Radulov were added specifically so the Predators could advance deeper into the playoffs.
Rest assured, both will be highly motivated following this embarrassing episode. Both were flying in Wednesday's morning skate. Wouldn't you want your best players in the lineup if you were faced with either tying up the series or falling behind, 3-1, heading back to Phoenix? And how would you explain sitting them to your fan base and your general manager if Phoenix were to win Game 4?
"We 're just a few minutes after the game. I can't really give you any answers but it's very hard to change it if everybody's committed like they were," Trotz said. "It's a privilege to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Those guys took advantage of the privilege of playing. I think that's a sacred part of the playoffs so it will be very hard to change a whole lot from that group."
In that sense, Nashville faces a tougher two days than the Coyotes. Tippett likes to tweak his lineups after losses. If Lauri Korpikoski is healthy enough, maybe he'll be the tweak.
But if you examine Wednesday's game, you'll understand why Tippett was so upbeat in his post-game press conference. The Coyotes knew they were going to face Nashville's best shot on Wednesday. Turns out, that shot wasn't as devastating as they thought it might be.
If Rostislav Klesla's early shot had gone in instead of ringing off the far post, the Coyotes would have had a 1-0 lead and changed the complexion of the game. The point is, Phoenix is not far off.
Maybe the loss will serve as motivation. Maybe two straight average games by Smith will serve to motivate him. Maybe the Coyotes can still do what they came to do in Nashville: win one game and go home with a chance to close out the series.
"Two mistakes," captain Shane Doan said. "Those two cost us. We've got to get back at it and win the next one."
BEST OF MAXIM
AROUND THE WEB
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