Originally posted on Fox Sports Tennessee  |  Last updated 5/3/12
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It's not fun being Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn right now. The two Predators forwards, held out of Game 3 for a violation of team rules, have no certainty to as to when they will return to the lineup. They're taking their medicine. And, at risk of mixing metaphors, they're eating their humble pie. Entering Game 3 as the Preds' two leading scorers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with their team down 0-2 in the Western Conference Semifinal series, they now are on the outside looking in with Nashville having played its best game of the series without them and prevailed 2-0 on Wednesday. The Predators' practice session on Thursday offered no hints that they would return to the lineup on Friday for Game 4. Coach Barry Trotz said he had not made up his mind, but it's not hard to read the tea leaves. Radulov and Kostitsyn practiced on a line with Craig Smith, another player who was a healthy scratch on Wednesday. Trotz previously had said if the team had won, he would likely maintain the same lineup, as most NHL coaches do, especially in the postseason. In some ways, the players' story is the age-old one of sin, forgiveness and atonement. They have sinned and been punished. They appear to be on the path to forgiveness and they are working their way towards atonement. Throughout the ordeal, Trotz and general manager David Poile have used metaphors of family and almost at times seemed to be reading out of a textbook on child-rearing, condemning the actions but not the actor. "I will tell you this with (Radulov), they both knew they made a mistake, but they do care about what happens with the team," Trotz said. "They were cheering like crazy yesterday and they know that it might prevent them from being in the lineup tomorrow. They know it's about trying to win this series, so whatever decision I make, they might not like it but they will support it." That statement came in answer to a question about Radulov's saying he would not ask his coach to go back in the lineup, which could be misinterpreted as smug, depending on how one looks at it. Trotz praised those words, saying they represented the act of a professional. Trotz said whether the 25-year-old Radulov lobbied or not, it would not affect his decision as to whether Radulov would play. For Radulov and Kostitsyn, forgiveness and atonement start with putting the team first -- something they did not do when they stayed out too late before Game 2, which Trotz said after the win on Wednesday was the reason for the benching. Poile called the behavior "selfish" after announcing the decision. But now, through Trotz and Radulov's words -- Kostitsyn's English skills or his desire to speak publicly are too limited to have done so thus far -- the right team-first attitude is revealing itself. "Guys defensively battled hard," Radulov said on Thursday. "It was nice to watch. They really showed the team effort. It's really good to be back in the series and just looking forward to the next game." Trotz said whether they play going forward will be determined by their actions -- evidence of their continuing contrition. "We all make mistakes," Trotz said. "All they can do is apologize, work hard and hope to get back in. Their actions in how they practice, how they support their teammates and how they do all those things will be very important. The guys know -- everybody has made mistakes in their lifetime. "As a family member, you recognize that they made a mistake. They're part of the family. You don't love them any less, you just say, Hey you made a mistake and I'm not very happy with that right now, but you're still part of the family.' That's how I think it will be treated within the group. We have a very close and good group, and I think they will integrate right back in and they'll be fine." Complicating the issue at the moment is how the team responded to the presence of Matt Halischuk and Jordin Tootoo in place of Radulov and Kostitsyn and the fact that those latter two played well. In addition, Trotz said that Halischuk and Tootoo might provide stylistic advantages against a defensive-minded team like Phoenix. Without naming names, Trotz mentioned how dangling and stickhandling -- the tactics of Radulov -- will not beat the Coyotes. That got Nashville into trouble in Sunday's 5-3 loss in Game 2 in which the Preds committed too many turnovers and Radulov and his linemates -- who, in some cases, were equally guilty of mistakes -- all went minus-2. So what started as a disciplinary decision has morphed into a hockey decision. As a result, the process could take time. But it seems as if it's going in the right direction. "Today they're sort of wondering if they're going to be in (the lineup)," Trotz said. "I know they were sort of a little bit unsure on everything. They were OK. They got off to a little bit of a slower start and then they got going, so I'm OK with that. They felt very humble. Sometimes that takes a while to sort of feel your oats again. "I think they're going to be fine."
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