NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 02: Gilbert Brule #8 of the Phoenix Coyotes checks Jordin Tootoo #22 of the Nashville Predators in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bridgestone Arena on May 2, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Playing without Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn in Game 3? No problem for Nashville, as their depth helped them adjust to their old playing style and get back in the series with Phoenix.
As if being down two games to none wasn't tough enough for the Nashville Predators, management chose to suspend Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn for Game 3 after a "violation of team rules." While removing offensive threats from the lineup doesn't seem like the best strategy, it worked for Barry Trotz's club as they were able to simplify the game en route to a 2-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes.
After the game, Ryan Suter told Joe Micheletti about how this game differed from the first two against Phoenix.
"We just had to go back to basics," said Suter. "We were trying to be too fancy earlier in the series and it ended up costing us."
The two suspended players were brought in during the regular season to add more scoring flair and offensive depth for the Predators, a slight shift in philosophy that might get Nashville away from its game a bit. Radulov isn't exactly the most defense-committed player in the league, after all.
Suter also alluded to the need to play a "defense-first game," which has been one of Nashville's strengths all year long. That's helped by their ability to play tight defense down low due to their solid backchecking skaters. Their aggressive offensive style comes thanks to their hard forechecking style -- an advantage the Predators had over the Detroit Red Wings in the first round. The two inserts for Game 3, Matt Halischuk and Jordin Tootoo, were the perfect candidates for this job, especially Halischuk on the penalty kill.
That forecheck was especially apparent on Nashville's two goals on the night where they forced the puck deep in Phoenix's zone, getting Mike Smith out of position and regaining possession for a quick shot in the net.
Nashville's depth is impressive. Halischuk and Tootoo haven't seen much playing time this postseason despite the fact that Halischuk had 28 points and 15 goals and Tootoo finished the year with 30 points. Craig Smith was skipped over for Game 3, after putting up 36 points in the regular season because he didn't fit the defensive mold the Preds knew they would need to win the game without their offensive weapons up front. Not many teams can afford to sit a 40-point player in the playoffs, but that's the beauty of the Nashville lineup.
With the need for the Predators to keep momentum on their side and how they controlled the Coyotes, it probably works in Nashville's best interests to keep things the way they are for Game 4. It's not to say that Radulov and the elder Kostitsyn will not re-enter the lineup later in the series or the playoffs. That's the beauty of the Predators' lineup.