Barry Trotz says his goal is to put the team first.
That’s why the Nashville Predators coach will put the same team in the ice Friday that won for the first time in the Western Conference semifinals two days earlier. Forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, suspended for Game 3 due to disciplinary reasons, will be out for Game 4 as well.
“The decision for me was pretty simple,” Trotz said Friday morning following his team’s game day skate. “The group that went in there [Wednesday] was very committed and got the job done. Alex and Andrei are good players. They’re top players. At the same time, I felt that the group responded really well and I expect the group to respond again.”
With a similar result (faceoff is 6:30 p.m. at Bridgestone Arena) Nashville will even the best-of-seven series with the Phoenix Coyotes at two games apiece. If things don’t go as well without two of the team’s leading playoff scorers, the Predators will be on the brink of elimination when they head to Phoenix for Monday’s fifth game.
“The last game I thought the guys that went in were very committed, playing Predator hockey,” Trotz said. “I thought we had a better forecheck. We had a little more of a desperation. We did a lot of good things.
“Sometimes the mix of players works better sometimes. In that last game, I don’t think — after watching the first two games — that that was more of a Predator team, a Predator style. Predator focus. That was undeniable, I think.”
Without Radulov and Kostitsyn, the Predators won 2-0 at home Wednesday when they made a pair of first-period goals 66 seconds apart stand up. It was the just the second postseason shutout in franchise history.
Phoenix managed 32 shots, nearly identical to its average through the first two contests, and had four power plays, one fewer than in the first two series combined.
Yet in the first two games at Phoenix, a 4-3 overtime defeat followed by a 5-3 loss, Nashville allowed at least one goal in five of six regulation periods and never had the lead.
“We’ll see how it is today,” Trotz said. “If it’s not the same way then I think that opens the door for me to go, ‘Let’s go, let’s do this.’ The players [the played] made a big statement.”
He stressed that the choice to stick with the same lineup is not any sort of further disciplinary action against the players who missed curfew prior to Game 2.
“Obviously they want to be in,” Trotz said. “They want to have some vindication, if you will, but at the same time they were good pros. … They understand. They’re ready. They’ll do whatever it takes to get back in if it means have to sit this game, the next game or whatever.
“As long as we’re winning they’re fine.”