There have been distractions for the Phoenix Coyotes for years, and there were distractions on Monday night. But in chasing their first-ever Stanley Cup, the Coyotes continue to brush their off-ice saga aside.
The Predators will go with the same lineup in Game 4 as the one it employed in its Game 3 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes, and that means Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn will remain sidelined following their one game team-imposed suspension for staying out too late after Game 2 in Arizona.
Head coach Barry Trotz announced the news before Game 4, opting not to fix what isn't broken. Radulov told reporters in his post-practice press availability that he thinks the coach made the right call.
A plurality of readers at Predators blog On the Forecheck voted Thursday in favor of keeping the same lineup for Game 4, a decision that means Matt Halischuk and Jordin Tootoo will remain in the lineup for the huge game at Bridgestone Arena on Friday evening. A Nashville win evens the series at 2-2, while a Phoenix win gives the Coyotes a commanding 3-1 series lead heading into Game 5 on home ice.
The Coyotes realized they'd need to do better in terms of puck possession in Game 2. They did just that, and the inclusion of their defensemen in the offensive game was a major part of the improved pressure on the Predators' defense.
The Phoenix Coyotes have defended their home ice with two great performances in Arizona in the first two games of their Western Conference semifinal series, and perhaps just as importantly, they have figured out Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne. The Coyotes offense was able to score and create shots in bunches for the second straight game, and they take a 2-0 lead to Nashville after pulling off a 5-3 victory in Game 2.
Phoenix was in control from start to finish, but they let Nashville keep the game close with one breakaway goals and two goals on the power play. Antoine Vermette scored the first goal of the game early in the first period, capitalizing on a great pass by Keith Yandle, but Nashville would tie the game before the intermission. On their only great scoring chance of the first period, Kevin Klein set up Andrei Kostitsyn on a two-on-one break, and he finished off the move to make it 1-1.
The Coyotes took the lead back with two goals in just over seven minutes to start the third period, with Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata scoring the goals. Phoenix appeared to be fully in control of the game until Ray Whitney was whistled for a penalty halfway through the second period, which led to a power play goal by Patric Hornqvist to cut the Coyotes' lead to 3-2. They retook a two-goal lead just 30 seconds later, thanks to Taylor Pyatt, who batted a rebound out of the air and into the back of the net for a goal.
Two penalties at the end of the second period set up a four-on-four, and that quickly became a four-on-three for Nashville when Vrbata was whistled for interference 22 seconds into the third period. Nashville capitalized and cut Phoenix's lead to one goal again through Ryan Suter, assisted by Shea Weber and Martin Erat.
Once again, Phoenix answered quickly. Shane Doan scored 3:36 into the third period, doing a great job to deflect a shot by Derek Morris to give Rinne very little chance to react and make a save.
With a two-goal lead in the third period, the Coyotes began to play a slightly more conservative style of hockey. They locked things up and went totally defensive with around six minutes remaining, and Nashville had no answer. They pulled Rinne and brought on a sixth skater with well over two minutes remaining, but couldn't find a goal to get back into the game.
A late power-play goal by Martin Erat tied the game between the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators at 3-3 and ultimately forced the game into overtime. In sudden death overtime, the two teams played it tight, but the Coyotes were able to sneak away with a victory and take the early lead in the series 1-0.
The Coyotes' Ray Whitney picked up the game-winning goal with just over five minutes left in the overtime period, assisted by Martin Hanzal. The Coyotes won the face off deep in Preds territory, and Whitney just happened to be at the right spot to nearly immediately punch in the game winner.
As you can see by the reaction of winger Sergei Kostitsyn, the Predators are not happy with the loss and going down 1-0 early in the seven game series.