NASHVILLE, Tenn. The Nashville Predators got along without two of their leaders in points in Game 3 and so they will attempt to do it again in Game 4 when the puck drops Friday night at Bridgestone Arena.
The Preds stand a win away from tying their Western Conference semifinal series with Phoenix at two games apiece. They trailed 2-0 when the team suspended wings Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn for a violation of team rules. Coach Barry Trotz has since said it was for staying out too late breaking curfew, in essence. Radulovs six points still lead the Preds in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Kostitsyn's four are tied for fourth on the team.
Trotz said that while the suspension is over, he has made a hockey decision to maintain the same lineup with which his team played so well in its 2-0 win on Wednesday. Matt Halischuk and Jordin Tootoo took the place of the suspended players and skated on the fourth line; Radulov has played on the second line and Kostitsyn on the third.
Tootoo and Halischuk each drew penalties on Phoenix players in Game 3 and made an impact in ways other than goals and assists. Tootoo had a team-high five hits and recorded two shots on net. Halischuk had two takeaways and spent 1:08 killing penalties a facet of the game that neither Radulov nor Andrei Kostitsyn perform as Nashville killed all four Coyotes penalties tries.
Keeping the same lineup after a victory is a common convention among hockey coaches, part superstition, part pragmatic consideration.
"I felt that the group responded really well and I expect the group to respond again,'' Trotz said. "(Radulov and Kostitsyn) are ready. When I told them, obviously, they want to be in, they want to have some vindication, if you will, but at the same time they were really good about being good pros, which got them in trouble in the first place. They understand theyre ready to do whatever it takes to get back in.''
Radulov said he understood the decision, as the team won.
"Well, yeah, guys play well so I think they made the right change, the right decision,'' he said. "So I stick up for them. They deserve it. That's the main thing.''
Radulov is a former first-round pick of Nashville's who broke his contract with the team to play in his native Russia for four seasons. He became the two-time MVP of the KHL and returned in March, totaling seven points in nine games. While his offensive totals have been excellent, he was criticized for poor defensive play in Game 2 something a number of Preds were guilty of.
Andrei Kostitsyns brother Sergei plays on the Preds' top line. Nashville traded a second-round pick for him, acquiring him from Montreal in February. His three goals are tied for the team lead in the playoffs.