A day after they punished a couple of their own players for an error in judgment, the Nashville Predators made the Phoenix Coyotes pay for a couple of mistakes.
Nashville converted two Phoenix turnovers into first-period goals and — before a sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena — that was all it took to liberate them from the doldrums that were so pervasive in the first two games of the Western Conference semifinal series.
The Predators won 2-0 Wednesday without offensive stars Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, who were benched for a violation of team rules. That victory created the opportunity to even the series in Game 4 on Friday.
“I think we brought back kind of our identity … that’s being on guys hard, forechecking hard, making sure you’re finishing your checks,” right wing Jordin Tootoo, one of those who replaced Radulov and Kostitsyn, said. “We have to do that game in and game out. All year long we’ve used that mentality and it’s worked for us.”
David Legwand gave Nashville its first lead of the series when he scored 8:10 into the contest. Gabriel Bourque stole the puck in the offensive end and fed Legwand, who hd a shot into an open net.
Mike Fisher scored again 1:06 later after Martin Erat forced a turner in the Coyotes’ end.
“We got on them hard and capitalized on their mistakes,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “In the first two games we made some mistakes and they capitalized. I just thought we got back more to our game.”
The Coyotes added two power play chances in the third period (Nashville had one more) and they overlapped. The Predators were two men down for 41 seconds and at least a man short for 3:19 but could not take advantage.
The party line was that too much emphasis was placed on trying to get pucks past Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, and not enough attention was paid to defense, a long-standing Nashville tradition.
The suspension of Radulov and Kostitsyn, two of the team’s most productive offensive players, was considered an opportunity to return to the preferred style of hockey.
That’s exactly what happened — both in form and function. Ice time was more equally divided among the 18 skaters in this contest than in virtually any other this postseason, and — more importantly — the result was exactly what Nashville wanted and needed.
Pekka Rinne made 32 saves for his first career postseason shutout, the Predators’ first since 2004 against Detroit. Only one player, Matt Halischuk, played fewer than 10 minutes, but that was because he was injured briefly and spent time being treated in the locker room.
“We were a lot more committed, a lot more determined [Wednesday] night,” captain Shea Weber said. “And we’re going to have to even raise that level in Game 4.”
About the only thing the Predators could not do that they wanted was hold the Coyotes accountable for violations of the NHL rulebook. Through two periods Nashville had twice as many power plays (four) as Phoenix (two) and but failed to convert any of them.
That was one of the few things that went right during the two games in Phoenix. There, the Predators scored three times on seven chances with the man-advantage but still left with a pair of defeats.
“I think we have to be a little better on the power play.” Legwand said. “I think we had some chances to execute and didn’t. But they came a little harder [on the penalty kill].”
“Our top players, I thought, were our best players — from goal out," Trotz said. “I thought that was great. I thought we had a real good commitment level from everybody. Guys that went in the lineup were good.
“We stepped up and played Predator hockey — finally — in this series.”
There was no mistaking the signs — right from the start.
“I think the first five minutes we wanted to make sure we came out with a good start,” Tootoo said. “This is a tough building to play against when you’re down. I think teams know that coming in.”