As each Nashville Predators player offered his own endorsement of the team’s decision to sit forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn for a game, there was a secondary message that consistently emerged.
Things can’t get any worse.
“This could be a good turning point for us,” center Mike Fisher said. “We’ve always been about team and team-first all year long. That’s how we win and that’s what we have to get back to.”
Due to a violation of team rules, Radulov and Kostitsyn will not play Wednesday when the Predators host the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 3 of the teams’ Western Conference semifinal series (8 p.m., CNBC).
The Predators lost the first two games in Phoenix when they allowed nine goals total. That is the same number they gave up in their entire first-round series with Detroit, which lasted five games. It also is the most ever allowed by Nashville through the first two games of any playoff series.
Nashville never has won a playoff series when it started with two straight defeats.
“I think a big focus of ours was to score goals because Chicago had such a tough time scoring on [Mike] Smith — he’s such a good goalkeeper and their team defense is so strong,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “For us, I think there was a big focus on scoring goals and we kind of forgot about how we got this far.
“So for us, we have to get back to playing a solid defensive game and everyone buying in.”
Kostitsyn is the only Nashville player with a goal in each game against Phoenix. Radulov has one assist in the series and leads the team with six playoff points (one goal, five assists).
Neither coach Barry Trotz nor general manager David Poile guaranteed that one or both would be back in the lineup for Game 4 either.
“People are pointing the finger at the two guys who are sitting out — that it’s their fault,” captain Shea Weber said. “Maybe they broke the rules, but it’s everyone in here’s play that‘s cost us two games. Our performance out there hasn’t been what it should be and it’s everyone.
“… We’ve got guys that are capable of playing. They’ve done it all year and I’m sure they’re looking forward to that opportunity to step up.”
The most likely candidates to take their place in the lineup, according Trotz, are Matt Halischuk, Craig Smith and Jordin Tootoo. Between them, they have made a total of six appearances and have no goals with two assists in this postseason.
None offer an obvious remedy given that the Coyotes are the only Western Conference team with a goals-per-game average of better than three (it is 3.25) in these playoffs. Nashville, at 2.71, is third behind Los Angeles.
On top of that, Smith’s 298 saves are most thus far and his .943 save percentage is third overall.
“You have to stay accountable to your teammates,” goalie Pekka Rinne said. “[We’ve] got to wait to get [Radulov and Kostitsyn] back down the stretch. We have to take care of these couple [of] next games without them. We have a lot of depth within our team — so that’s a good thing.”
It is one of the few positives for the team at the moment.
“Everyone is expected to commit at this time of year and be all in,” Fisher said. “… To not have that is definitely disappointing. That being said, we’re all going to step up and rally together and get back to the way we know we can play.
“It’s not just a couple of guys. … We all have to be better."
In other words, things can’t get any worse.