Originally posted on Fox Sports Tennessee  |  Last updated 5/3/12
NASHVILLE The Nashville Predators seemed to be dancing on the razor's edge entering Game 3 of their Western Conference Semifinal series with Phoenix on Wednesday. A day earlier, they had suspended their two top scorers in the playoffs, Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, for a violation of team rules, as the Preds had fallen down 0-2 in the series. Had the Predators not responded or needed the scoring of the Russian and Belarusian and not come out on top, they would have fallen into the abyss of an 0-3 deficit that few teams in NHL history have ever escaped. As it happened, Trotz had the pulse of his team and the Preds pulled out a much-needed 2-0 victory in Game 3 to pull within 2-1 in the series, as goalie Pekka Rinne stopped 32 shots for the shutout and David Legwand and Mike Fisher tallied first-period goals that stood up. "I think in the big picture, when you make decisions for what I felt were the right reasons, the group will respond," said Trotz, the only coach in team history. "I listened to a commentator on CBC between periods of the (New York Rangers-Washington) game and he thought I was totally wrong. He would let them go out all night and still play them and that's not how we do it here, so I disagree. "The guys respond because everyone wanted to be a part of it. The group was committed to the effort. I will never apologize for doing what I felt was right. In life, I think a lot of people have done the right thing and had to pay a price for it. That's when you do it right and you don't have to apologize." On the ice, the Predators won by, as they had talked about, getting back to the fundamentals of how they play. That's defense-first with offense building off that. Not only had Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn violated team rules, but they also were among the violators of how the Preds need to play. Radulov, in particular, was excoriated on national television for his lack of effort and execution. Taking their place in the lineup were left wing Matt Halischuk and right wing Jordin Tootoo, two players who, incidentally, played on the fourth line on Wednesday. (Radulov had played on the second and Andrei Kostitsyn on the third.) Not surprisingly, it was somewhat symbolic that two blue-collar fourth-liners helped the Preds to get back to playing their style of hockey in a huge victory. "That was a lot better," Preds captain Shea Weber said. "That's the way we need to play. We didn't give up as much (chances). They're a good team. They're quick and we've got to play the same way." Defenseman Ryan Suter said that allowing nine goals in the first two games of the series as many as Nashville had allowed in its entire five-game series with Detroit in the first round was "kind of embarrassing." "You play good teams," he said, "and you have to match their desperation and we did that tonight." As the Preds look to even the series on Friday, the major subplot will be whether Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn return to the lineup. On Wednesday morning, Trotz had said that if Nashville won, he would likely keep the same lineup. He might, however, have an out if he wants one. Halischuk went awkwardly into the boards on a play in which Phoenix's Adrian Aucoin received an interference penalty. Halischuk received treatment and the team said his return was questionable; however, he returned to play. The 23-year-old has been banged up during the playoffs and that might be one reason why Wednesday represented only his fourth game of the playoffs. If he is injured, Trotz might be able to re-insert one of the prodigal Preds back into the lineup. But he doesn't have to. He could just as easily insert rookie Craig Smith, who was held out on Wednesday but received consideration a day earlier as a possible replacement. Having steered his team through some rough waters, Trotz now faces more challenges, but for now -- not as choppy as what he navigated the Preds through in Game 3.
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